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Opinion

The Podium

Closing deadly loopholes in state gun laws

Supporters of tighter gun control measures gathered at the State House in June. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Supporters and opponents of tighter gun control measures gathered at the State House in June. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

If Massachusetts can’t stand up to the gun lobby, no state in the nation can. We have the obligation to lead, and we can start by passing meaningful legislation aimed at reducing gun violence in the Commonwealth.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo recently introduced a bill that will do precisely that. The measure, “An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence,” takes a thoughtful and comprehensive look at how to reduce preventable gun violence.

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Among its key provisions are background checks every time a gun is sold by requiring all secondary handgun sales to occur with a licensed firearms dealer. The legislation also mandates that the Commonwealth join the national database for criminal and mental health background checks. The bill also enables authorities to trace the origin of any firearm used in a crime, and increases the penalty for not reporting a lost or stolen gun.

The bill is the result of extensive research by a committee formed after the Newtown school shootings. The committee included law enforcement, public health, and mental health professionals. The bill, based on their unanimous recommendations, not only respects the rights of responsible and lawful gun owners, but it closes troublesome and potentially deadly loopholes in our existing gun laws.

This vital piece of legislation, if passed, would be the first post-Newtown gun-safety legislation to be enacted in our state. When one considers the significant gaps in our current gun laws, and the ever-rising threat gun-related violence in our communities, the need for this legislation is apparent.

Despite its moderate, responsible, and reasonable provisions, a vocal minority associated with the state’s well-funded gun lobby is doing its best to stop this bill. They understand that if Massachusetts takes meaningful action, other states could soon follow suit.

After seeing the tremendous influence and power held by the pro-gun lobby, both in our state and nationwide, our group was born. The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence includes parents, and community and religious leaders from 35 organizations across the state who are dedicated to seeing effective, yet reasonable, gun violence prevention legislation passed.

Critics argue that Massachusetts already has some of the nation’s toughest gun laws. That is true, but while the state has the second lowest rate of gun deaths in the nation, firearm injuries and gun-related homicides in the Commonwealth have increased significantly since 1998.

Examining our neighborhoods in Massachusetts and around the nation, the argument for action has never been greater. In the year following the Marathon bombings, there were at least 237 shootings in the Boston Area. In the 19 months since the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been 74 school shootings, almost daily incidents of gun violence in cities across the nation, and countless suicides by gun. Meanwhile, a new report by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center shows that the number of mass shootings has increased by nearly 300 percent between 2009 and 2013.

These numbers, and the thousands of American lives destroyed as a result, should be simply unacceptable to all of us.

Let’s be clear: Passing legislation at the state level is not a substitute for action at the federal level. But in the months since Newtown, repeated attempts to reach consensus in Congress on sensible gun legislation have been a complete failure. This is despite overwhelming public support for action on this issue.

Thanks to Speaker DeLeo and other allies’ efforts and continued dedication to this cause, we have seen this important bill pushed forward, and it is well positioned to pass. Massachusetts has the opportunity to show significant leadership on this vital issue. Even more important, we have the chance, with one single vote, to make the Commonwealth a safer place. We cannot, and should not, stand by while our children and communities are threatened by preventable gun violence. While this is a complex public health and safety issue, it is one we can address with a timely, thoughtful and meaningful response.

With more than 30,000 Americans killed every year by gun violence, and ongoing inaction at the federal level, this legislation simply cannot wait. We urge support of this reasonable and potentially lifesaving legislation, and ask that the Legislature close the loopholes that negatively impact responsible gun owners and threaten our communities.

Rev. Ray Hammond is the founder and pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and chairman and co-founder of the TenPoint Coalition. James Hicks is chief of police for the town of Natick.

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