BOSTON -- Massachusetts has some of the nation’s toughest gun laws but can do more to reduce violence and keep firearms away from people with criminal backgrounds or mental illness, according to a task force established after the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The panel, created by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, said in a report Monday that Massachusetts should require background checks for most private firearms sales, increase penalties for failing to report lost or stolen guns and tighten regulations on rifle ownership.
Other recommendations include a more uniform approach to firearms licensing and training requirements, tax credits for the purchase of gun safes and two-way communication from schools to municipal police for use in emergencies.
The state also was urged to join a federal program that shares information about people who might be unsuitable to own guns because of substance abuse or mental illness.
"Overall Massachusetts continues to be a leader nationally in efforts to reduce gun violence," the task force said. "The Committee believes that even more can be done."
Massachusetts law allows Class A and Class B licenses. The Class B license allows someone to carry a non-large-capacity firearm in the open. The Class A license allows the licensee to carry a concealed firearm. The report said that since few Massachusetts gun owners routinely carry their firearms in the open, the Class B license should be eliminated.
The panel also recommended closing what it sees as a loophole in state law that allows people who may have been arrested repeatedly without being convicted to obtain firearms identification cards to buy rifles or shotguns even though they can be denied handgun licenses.
DeLeo said he hoped to have a gun bill on Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk by the end of the Legislature’s formal session on July 31.
The report did not include a Patrick commendation to restrict a gun owner to buying one firearm a month. The committee said it didn’t believe it would help limit the flow of illegal weapons into Massachusetts from states where buying guns is easier.
Patrick called his one-gun-per-month proposal "reasonable."
"I think there are tools that we need to deal with the trafficking of guns in bulk to people who shouldn’t have them," said Patrick, adding that he hadn’t read the report.
The report also did not include a proposal that gun owners be required to buy liability insurance in case their firearms are used to injure anyone.
State Rep. George Peterson, a gun rights supporter, said he agreed with many of the recommendations and praised DeLeo, a Democrat, for avoiding a "knee jerk" reaction to the Newtown slayings. But the Grafton Republican said the committee’s recommendations still leave police chiefs too much discretion in determining who is suitable to own a gun.
"Tough gun laws don’t always equate to curbing gun violence," said Peterson, noting gun crime had increased in Massachusetts since the last major gun control law passed in 1998.
The panel, in its report, also recommends convicted felons be barred from receiving firearms identification cards.
Jim Wallace, president of The Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, said the group opposed changes giving police chiefs more power to deny firearms identification cards. He said he agreed with other recommendations, including the proposal to end Class B licenses.
John Rosenthal, founder of the group Stop Handgun Violence, said he was encouraged by the report. But he said any legislation also should prohibit carrying more than one high-capacity ammunition magazine and allow the state’s public safety secretary to add "copycat" weapons to Massachusetts’ list of permanently banned weapons.
The report noted that Massachusetts was one of the safest states for gun deaths. It had the second-lowest rate, behind Hawaii from 2001-2010. Still, the report said, 2,179 people died from gunshot wounds, including accidental deaths and suicides, in Massachusetts during that decade.