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Mayor’s office asks licensed gun owners to help stop gun violence

Effort to keep firearms out of criminals’ hands

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the city’s top police official on Wednesday said they will expand their outreach to licensed gun owners and vendors in an effort to prevent legally purchased firearms from falling into the hands of criminals.

The city’s roughly 8,000 licensed gun owners are receiving letters from the city reminding them of how to properly report the sale, loss, or theft of a firearm.

The initiative follows a city-commissioned study that concluded the sale and transfer of guns was not routinely documented, as required by law.

Officials said they believe that more accurate reporting on the resale of firearms can help crack down on gun violence by allowing police to track the guns that are used in crimes after being sold on the street.

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“This is an effort to make sure that if guns are floating around, we can find out who the original owners are and hold them responsible,” Police Commissioner William B. Evans said during a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s an educational piece. Without better enforcement and education, we’re letting things slip through the cracks.”

The city commissioned a study on the 3,202 handguns seized by Boston police between 2007 and 2013. That study reviewed gun tracking performed by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a federal agency that traces the history of illegal guns from the factory to the private sector and then to illegal trafficking.

Nearly 500 of those recovered guns should have appeared in Massachusetts databases chronicling purchases and sales. But researchers said they were surprised to find that 63 percent of those guns did not appear in registries.

“There should have been electronic transfer records and there wasn’t,” said Anthony Braga, a professor at Harvard University and Rutgers University and author of the study titled, “Preventive Medicine.” “The data are very valuable in trying to understand the sources of guns to criminals.”

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Under state law, gun owners who fail to report that a firearm had changed hands or has been lost can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, and a second offense is punishable by up to 10 years in state prison.

Braga said officials in Los Angeles launched a similar effort in 2006 when letters were sent to people who had recently purchased guns, educating them on city laws.

Walsh said his administration wants to remind gun owners of the law and other avenues for getting rid of unwanted firearms, including the city’s gun buyback program. The city is also offering trigger locks for free at police stations and at police headquarters.

“Anything we can do to be creative that might help us with getting one gun off the street or preventing one shooting, we’re going to do it,” Walsh said Wednesday at a news conference at Suffolk University on an unrelated matter.

Although homicides are down this year — 21 compared with 38 the same time last year — shootings, especially those resulting in injuries to several people, have spiked.

So far this year, authorities have tracked 135 shooting incidents, with 179 people being injured or killed. One episode resulted in six people being shot, and two others each resulted in four people being shot.

Last year, there were the same number of shooting incidents, but with fewer victims, said police spokesman Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy.

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City officials and civic leaders have been working to combat the rise in gun violence following a spate of fatal shootings, including the deaths of 16-year-old Jonathan Dos Santos in June and Grisel Sanchez, a mother of three killed in July while walking in a park. Three young men were fatally wounded Aug. 12 in two unrelated incidents.

“We don’t want kids getting shot,” Evans said. “There’s too many senseless acts of violence.”

Walsh is planning a regional summit for this fall with mayors and law enforcement officials to search for a way to reduce gun violence on a regional basis, given that criminals do not respect municipal boundaries.

Civic leaders and activists praised the administration’s efforts.

“This conversation about how to stop [gun violence] has to be a broader conversation that has to involve responsible gun owners,” said Nancy Robinson, executive director of Citizens for Safety.

Others point to a lack of understanding about laws governing the resale of guns.

“There is a huge gap in people understanding what the current laws are,” said Jim Wallace, of Gun Owners’ Action League, the Massachusetts affiliate of the NRA. “It wouldn’t surprise me if people didn’t know what they had to do.”

Jan Ransom can be reached at jan.ransom@globe.com. John R. Ellement can be reached atellement@globe.com.