Massachusetts is a national leader in gun violence prevention. We treat guns like automobiles — requiring responsibility and accountability on the part of gun owners, gun dealers, gun manufacturers, and law enforcement.
This includes gun safety training and renewable gun licensing and registration, just like for automobiles. We also require mandatory background checks for all gun sales, safe storage, and local police chief discretion in licensing to keep guns out of the hands of individuals with a known history of violence. Massachusetts prohibits military-style assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines, and dangerous accessories like bump stocks and silencers. We have the first-in-the-nation gun manufacturer consumer protection standards and common-sense gun dealer regulations for all guns sold in the Commonwealth. Finally, when a gun owner becomes a threat to themselves or others, we have an extreme-risk protection order law that allows family members and law enforcement to petition the court to temporarily remove firearms from at-risk individuals during such moments of crisis.
As a result of our effective gun laws and regulations, we have experienced a 40 percent reduction in the rate of gun deaths since 1994 and, with the exception of isolated Hawaii, Massachusetts now has the lowest gun death rate in the United States. However, even with all of these effective policies in place, we continue to suffer from frequent gun violence.
Just four days into the year, Bryan Omar Mendez was shot and killed in Lynn, becoming the Commonwealth’s first known gun casualty of 2020. Six days later, another man died in Holyoke and a father and son died in Framingham. The next night, another man was killed, this time in Boston. These fatalities do not capture additional crimes where a gun is commonly used, such as to threaten partners during a domestic violence incident and in armed robberies.
Unfortunately, even with a strong set of state policies, Massachusetts is a victim of the lax gun policies of our neighboring states as well as gaping loopholes in federal law. Nearly 70 percent of the Commonwealth’s crime guns come from out of state.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts recently filed the Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act, which includes a comprehensive set of measures that would reduce preventable gun violence and protect the Second Amendment. It is a thoughtful and data-driven approach to gun violence prevention on a national level without negatively impacting law-abiding gun owners.
The bill includes a federal licensing process but would allow states like Massachusetts to continue to manage their own licensing programs and provide funding to do so. Research by Johns Hopkins University has shown that after implementing firearm licensing laws, states experienced a 40 percent reduction in firearm homicide and a 15 percent reduction in firearm suicide.
This bill would close existing loopholes by expanding background checks to all gun sales, including sales that take place between private parties and at gun shows, and require completing a background check before a transfer. Under current law, a gun sale proceeds if the FBI cannot complete a background check within three days. Polling indicates that 97 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun sales, yet it’s estimated that thousands of gun sales each year are transacted by private dealers who are not required to perform a background check.
Responding to calls from student activists and the March for Our Lives movement, this bill would raise the age to purchase firearms and ammunition to 21. This is a policy that could have prevented the deaths of 17 students and staff members in the Parkland school shooting in Florida, murdered by a 19-year-old with a legally purchased assault weapon.
Warren’s bill would also fund research by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, which researchers across the United States have advocated for over a decade. Funding would be provided to violence-intervention programs that could save states those costs associated with the justice system and incarceration when they are fully implemented.
This bill tackles firearm suicides, which account for two-thirds of firearm deaths each year. By requiring waiting periods, we could expect a 7-to-10 percent firearm suicide rate reduction. By requiring safe storage of firearms, youths would be prevented from accessing firearms in a moment of crisis. Finally, Warren’s bill includes extreme-risk protection orders, similar to Massachusetts, a policy that has the support of law enforcement and the mental health community.
We are proud of our proven success in gun violence prevention in Massachusetts. Warren’s evidenced-based, data-driven legislation, which replicates the Commonwealth’s effective gun violence prevention efforts, would save lives, for an untold number of families, and make Massachusetts and America safer.
John E. Rosenthal is the co-founder of Stop Handgun Violence.