About 250 people gathered Wednesday as part of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence’s action day seeking stricter gun laws in the Commonwealth.
Coalition leader Rev. Dan Smith advocated five principles for future gun legislation in front of the crowd at the State House: background checks at every point of sale, limit of handgun sales to one purchase per month, alterations to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, expansion of police chief discretion when using handguns and the spread of more information for people to track where guns purchased for crime are coming from.
“It’s the problem of 30,000 gun violence deaths, 18,000 suicides and 12,000 homicides with accidents in a year,” said Rev. Ray Hammond, a coalition representative. “It’s an old problem. It’s a problem that has fractured our society, made our neighborhoods considerably less secure and limited the horizons of our children.”
The meeting comes after a shooting in a New Jersey mall on Monday, but it is also a part of a greater push for gun restriction legislation among advocacy groups that began with the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
Mass. Reps. Harold Naughton, Carlos Henriquez and David Linksy showed their support for the coalition by attending the action day.
Naughton, chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, said he wanted mental health background checks for gun owners.
“We need to take a very strong look at mental health issues in our community,” he said. “Let’s start making a point to talk about mental health in a way that if you have cancer or some type of tumor, you’re going to get it taken care of. We’ve got to use this opportunity while we’re getting the guns off the streets to talk about mental health issues.”
Linksy said Massachusetts holds the responsibility of decreasing gun violence as an example for the rest of the states.
“We are here in Massachusetts because we have work to do,” he said. “In an ideal world, the federal government would have solved this problem, but I think that we have all seen the fact that the U.S. Congress is so dysfunctional that they cannot even attempt to do the simple form of legislation to cut down on gun violence, so it falls on us here in the state to do whatever we possibly can.”
The National Rifle Association and several other gun rights advocacy group in Massachusetts could not be reached for comment.
Although government involvement is not the only solution to limit gun violence in Massachusetts, Hammond said steps toward creating stricter gun control are vital to solving the issue.
“We will not shut up until our legislatures put up legislations that make sense,” he said. “We know it’s going to take more than legislation, but we know that legislation is a very important part of the puzzle. We know that we have to deepen the conversation about federal legislation. We know that we’ve got a model for the nation here, as we’ve done around healthcare.”
Venkat Venkatraman, 59, of Back Bay, said legislation for gun control should be stricter than it current laws.
“There should be gun reform for the simple reason that we’ve taken the Second Amendment in its extreme,” he said. “Just because I’ve got a license to drive a car, does not mean I can drive a tank. Why should somebody get a hold of a really powerful rifle just because they can shoot?”
Kevin Deneen, 53, of Allston, said he was more skeptical of stricter gun laws.
“While there is merit to the argument that you don’t really need a gun in a city like Boston with police around, more legislation is not going to solve anything,” he said. “It’s more of a mental health issue and there’s still not enough attention being paid to that aspect of a situation like the Sandy Hook shootings or New Jersey shooting just a few days ago. Everyone’s focusing on the guns, but it’s a societal issue, and legislation will never fix that.”
Dave Johnson, 40, of Dorchester, said he was in favor of stricter gun laws, but legislators need to make sure they pay careful attention to how they restrict guns.
“People still have their right to have a gun, but in the end, people have shown guns are too dangerous to have as easily accessible as they are,” he said. “There’s a fine line they [legislators] have to walk between rights and safety, so it’s okay no major laws have been passed since Sandy Hook, but it has to happen. As long as it doesn’t mess with rights, there has to be restriction.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that about 70 people gathered at the State House for Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence’s action day, when actually there were about 250 people. This article has been updated to reflect these changes.