In the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings, Massachusetts lawmakers held the last public meeting on Friday to discuss gun control in the Commonwealth before drafting a final bill to be pushed through the Legislature.
Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick spoke in favor of his bill requiring Massachusetts courts to give mental health records to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow other states access to records before they issue gun licenses.
“This information will only be used for the purposes of firearm licensing and to make sure that Massachusetts is aware of a resident’s full history when it’s time to license them for a firearm,” he said to more than 100 people at the hearing at the State House. “This is not about taking away anybody’s rights. This is about affirming everybody’s right to live in safety and without fear of violence.”
The public meeting preceded a Monday shooting where at least 13 people, including one gunman, were killed at a naval office building at the heavily secured Washington Naval Yard in Washington, D.C.
About 60 gun bills are pending before the Legislature that include stricter sentences for gun crimes, creating a registry of all gun offenders in the Commonwealth, requiring gun owners to buy liability insurance and a one-gun per month purchase limitation. Lawmakers are looking to create a comprehensive gun control bill in the coming months.
Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley, who is also running for mayor to replace Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, said he wants to increase the penalty for anyone who knowingly fails to report that their gun has been stolen from a fine of $200 to a two-and-a-half-year sentence and also to require gun owners to have insurance to cover accidental or unlawful injuries.
“Each year since I took office as DA, more people have been killed by illegal firearms in the City of Boston than every other weapon combined,” he said. “Every household has a kitchen knife, but during the past 11 years, 27 children age 16 or under have been killed in Boston by illegal firearms, not kitchen knives. That’s an entire classroom of children lost not simply to violence, but to gun violence.”
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, said his members support tough laws on those who have or use guns illegally, but seek to protect their Second Amendment rights and to provide tax incentives to encourage gun owners to store their weapons safely.
“There should never be a limitation on how many rounds a lawful citizen is allowed to have when defending their lives or the lives of their loved ones,” he said at the hearing. “You know, one of the things I hear all the time is that we have to prevent access of guns from unlawful people. We really need to deal with unlawful people being on the streets themselves, because they’re going to find access to something that will cause harm.”
Menino said he supports the bills that will bring Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and will create stronger penalties for gun-related crimes.
“While I will continue to fight at the federal level to address these serious flaws in our gun laws, our neighborhoods cannot wait for federal action,” he said at the hearing. “This Committee [the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security] and this Legislature can create a safer Commonwealth today. We can do better and improve our laws without infringing on the Second Amendment.”
Since January, 25 people in Boston have been killed in 189 shootings, according to a Friday press release from the mayor’s office. The Boston Police Department has recovered 477 illegal guns off the streets of Boston, and more than 60 percent of those guns come from other states, according to crime statistics reported by BPD on Aug. 27.
Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son Dylan was killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 students and six school personnel, recalled memories of her son at the public meeting.
“He was autistic, and he was a beautiful little boy who just loved the simple things in life,” she said. “He loved the moon, he loved the color purple and he loved garlic bread. That was happiness for him.”
Hockley said she wants the Legislature to pass tighter gun controls so what happened in Newtown could not happen in Massachusetts.
“He died in the arms of his special education teacher, and she died trying to protect him,” she said. “I was not prepared for this pain in my life and it is my most sincere wish that no other parent ever has to experience this heartache.”