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Patrick renewing push for tougher Mass. gun laws

Governor Deval Patrick and other gun control advocates are renewing their push for tougher gun laws in Massachusetts in the aftermath of the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.

Patrick said Monday that he urged House and Senate leaders to act on legislation that he previously introduced, which would, among other changes, forbid buyers from purchasing more than one gun a month. The bill has languished in the Legislature for at least two years.

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Patrick also called on Congress to enact a federal assault weapons ban, similar to the one in Massachusetts, which would have prohibited the purchase of the semiautomatic rifle that was used in the Connecticut shooting. Massachusetts is only one of a handful of states that has continued a ban on so-called assault weapons after Congress let a similar ban expire in 2004.

Authorities say that Adam Lanza used an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle in his rampage, which killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Lanza, who also killed his mother in a separate shooting, took his own life.

In addition to the rifle, Lanza also brought a 10-millimeter Glock and a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer. The weapons were registered to his mother, Nancy Lanza.

Beyond a federal assault weapons ban, Patrick said Monday that there are other state-level measures that need to be taken to ensure firearms do not fall into the wrong hands. Patrick’s proposal would also enroll Massachusetts in a national mental health registry for firearm background checks and impose registration requirements for firearm purchases at gun shows.

“I hope the gun lobby will join us in this discussion,” Patrick told reporters, “because I think everybody believes – a lot of us do – that there must be some kind of balance that can be struck between the interests of sportsmen and hunters and the need to keep automatic weapons and large magazines with all these rounds and the kind of ammunition that was used in Newtown off the streets.”

Representatives for House and Senate leaders said they would consider Patrick’s proposal. Both House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray released statements pledging to launch a discussion in the next session. Federal lawmakers have also said that they will submit proposals for a new federal assault weapons ban when they return to session next month.

Gun rights advocates argued that the debate on public safety should center on the treatment of the mentally ill, noting that those behind mass shootings have later been found to have had mental health problems that went unnoticed.

Jim Wallace, of the Gun Owners Action League, in Northborough, also argued that tougher gun laws put more strain on law-abiding gun owners than the criminals who illegally obtain guns. The number of licensed gun owners in Massachusetts has plunged from a million and a half when tougher laws went into effect in 1998 to 230,000 today, he said, and still the number of gun crimes has increased.

“Overbearing gun control is simply not going to be the answer,” he said.

Nationally, the renewed debate over gun control has centered on assault weapons, generally described as semiautomatic weapons capable of accepting magazine clips with capacities greater than 10 rounds, though gun rights activists say there is no general rule and that assault weapons are meant to describe fully automatic, military style machine guns.

The federal ban of 1994 listed several guns, but gun control advocates say that manufacturers simply began making similar guns with new names.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.
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