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EDITORIAL

Tackling the scourge of ghost guns, preventing the next tragedy a must in 2024

Legislative differences, egos shouldn’t get in the way of needed reforms.

A build kit for a 9 mm pistol on display at the White House, on April 11, 2022.KENNY HOLSTON/NYT

In Wareham last week, Robert Gomes III, 26, was charged with fatally shooting his father. He told police he bought the gun from a “website that he could not remember,” according to court records. It was essentially a ghost gun, a prosecutor told the court.

In Springfield, days earlier, 19-year-old Jovonne Torres was arrested for firing a gun at a driver he said tried to run him down in a parking lot. Police identified the weapon as a ghost gun with a high-capacity magazine.

Earlier in the month Charles Santos, 34, of Kingston was arrested for unlawful possession of a high-capacity firearm along with a 3-D printer and 3-D-printed gun body parts.

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The list goes on and on. The guns that are assembled at home from a kit or even printed at home are without serial numbers and virtually untraceable. They are also a growing menace on the streets.

“A majority of the crime guns that are currently recovered in Boston and Springfield and in some other urban communities are in fact ghost guns,” Representative David Linsky told a legislative hearing last week. “Ghost guns are just as deadly as a gun that is bought from a licensed gun dealer. … Currently under Massachusetts law, these are not prohibited guns, and it’s creating a significant public safety problem.”

Attorney General Andrea Campbell has been outspoken on the need to do more to combat the proliferation of ghost guns and the need to give law enforcement more tools to deal with them. The Massachusetts House has already passed a sweeping gun reform measure that would require ghost guns to be registered and have serial numbers on their frames, and while Senate President Karen Spilka has promised to get a gun reform bill on the governor’s desk before the session ends in July, this week’s hearing (on 53 separate gun-related measures) is the first time senators have publicly tackled the issue.

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For months House and Senate Democrats have been squabbling over which committee should handle gun reform. The House bill emerged from the Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Michael Day led the effort to draft a sweeping 126-page gun reform effort. Last week’s hearing was before the Joint Committee on Public Safety. The Senate has already indicated it too will take a broader approach but has yet to offer up that vision.

There’s no doubt, though, that action on ghost guns needs to be part of whatever legislation eventually makes it to the governor’s desk.

“These unregulated parts and kits make it possible for a whole range of prohibited and dangerous individuals — people with criminal convictions, people with severe mental health issues, people in crisis — to access firearms by buying parts online with no background check,” Samuel Levy, counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety, testified.

But ghost guns aren’t the only issue on which this usually reform-minded state has fallen behind.

More than a year and a half ago, in the Bruen decision, the US Supreme Court struck down New York’s century-old public carry law, which required New York residents to demonstrate “proper cause” to obtain a concealed carry license. The court left states to sort out how to comply with the ruling. Massachusetts has yet to do so.

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At least the high court did allow restrictions on the right to carry in “sensitive spaces” such as schools, polling places, and government buildings. The House bill explicitly lists those and adds that guns may also be banned at the discretion of business owners and homeowners. Any future Senate gun reform offering would certainly have to address that long-overdue issue.

Also overdue for an update is the state’s red flag law — more formally known as an Extreme Risk Protection Order — that allows a court to suspend a gun license and remove a gun from anyone who “poses a risk of physically hurting themselves or others.” But currently only a family or household member or the police department of the city or town in which the gun owner lives can apply for the order. Too often others see the warning signs of a life beginning to unravel but sadly can do nothing. Employers, school administrators, and health care providers must be added to the list of those who can apply for such an order.

All of those items are essential to whatever comes out of the Senate by way of gun reform. But they represent a floor, not a ceiling, to what can and must be accomplished in the coming year.

If there is some bit of wisdom to be gained from the recent tragedy in Lewiston, Maine, it is that nowhere is completely safe. No town, no city can afford to be complacent — not when do-it-yourself weaponry is as close as a computer keyboard and the next day’s delivery.

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There is no shortage of good intentions on Beacon Hill when it comes to gun reform. But as we have seen on too many occasions, rivalries, egos, and just plain dysfunction often get in the way of the best of intentions. A renewed effort at gun reform is too important to fall victim to that in 2024.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.