A state commission appointed after the Newtown gun massacre has produced a thoughtful, well-reasoned proposal to toughen gun laws in Massachusetts. With the addition of a proposal from Governor Patrick that was not included in the 44-point plan, these recommendations should be considered and if needed included in the gun violence legislation before the Legislature that should become law before the current session ends.
The eight-member panel, which includes experts in crime prevention, education, and mental health treatment, was appointed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Many of the points in its plan, such as broadening background checks on potential gun purchasers, are familiar but need emphasizing as the House and Senate craft gun bills on Beacon Hill.
The commission report urged the state to join the National Instant Background Check System, a federal database that enables police chiefs and other law enforcement authorities to screen out potential gun buyers who have been found to be mentally ill by a court of law. While Massachusetts’ gun laws are generally tough, it remains one of the few states in the union not to participate in this program. The panel recommended that the definition of "unsuitable persons," who can be denied gun licenses by police chiefs, be made more specific, and that the chiefs also be allowed to deny licenses to purchasers of rifles and shotguns under this criteria.
Surprisingly, the panel chose not to include a recommendation that purchasers be limited to one gun per month, which many advocates of tougher gun laws, including Governor Patrick, advocate. No one needs a gun a month beyond those supplying weapons to criminals and gang members, and the gun purchase limit will reduce bloodshed in the streets if included in the legislation, as it should be.
Republican state Representative George N. Peterson Jr. brought forward a familiar and flimsy argument that the "failure" of the state’s gun laws demonstrates the futility of adding more laws. According to the most recent data, the gun rate death in Massachusetts is the second lowest in the nation, and the consistently low gun death rate in the state over a decade is proof of the effectiveness of our gun laws. That gun violence continues is an argument for tougher gun laws, not weaker ones, and the ability of a congressional minority in Washington to block federal gun violence legislation supported by a majority of Americans is undermining noble efforts in states like Massachusetts.
"I think this will be the year," said Speaker DeLeo in the Boston Globe about passage of new state gun legislation before July. It must be. The case for passage, with or without the panel’s report, is strong, the arguments against it are weak, and the need for it is clear.