Riding a revitalized push to address gun safety, US Senator Edward J. Markey on Monday unveiled legislation designed to push other states to adopt Massachusetts’ get-tough laws, including requiring all gun owners to be licensed and giving local police chiefs the power to reject problem applicants.
The legislation, which Markey said he’ll file Tuesday, aims to extend the Massachusetts legal blueprint across the country by using Department of Justice grants to encourage states to harden their own laws.
Massachusetts has the lowest rate for firearms deaths in the country, according to Center for Disease Control data. In calling the state a model, Markey said that ranking is tied to the state’s stringent gun safety laws, which lawmakers revamped as recently as four years ago.
“Gun violence is not inevitable or pre-ordained. It is preventable,” Markey said at a press conference at the Boston Police Department’s Roxbury headquarters.
Speaking about the bill, he added: “My own view, this should be a national law, like banning gun sales in gun shows. This is a step in that direction.”
The bill, dubbed the Making America Safe and Secure Act, or MASS Act, would authorize Department of Justice officials to hand out $20 million in grants in each of the next five years to states that adopt measures similar to those in Massachusetts.
Under state law, local chiefs here have wide discretion in approving or denying gun license applications in addition to requiring that applicants clear a state background check, including having no felony convictions or restraining orders. Gun dealers are also licensed in Massachusetts.
The bill outlines several requirements for funding, according to a summary released by Markey’s office. States would have to establish local police departments or boards as a licensing authority. First-time applicants would also have to complete safety training, and all applicants would be required to go through an interview process.
States would also have to mandate that dealers verify a potential buyer is licensed before selling a firearm.
“I can’t guarantee that it will be sufficient,” Markey said of the bill and its promise of grants, “but it will take away the excuse that it’s going to take money.”
The bill could face an uphill climb on the Republican-controlled Capitol Hill, where a flood of gun safety ideas have lapped against its steps since last month’s massacre at a Florida high school with little official action thus far.
President Trump has at different points pushed proposals of arming and providing training for some schoolteachers while raising the minimum age to purchase guns from 18 to 21 years old.
But he also appeared to back off the latter point at the same time the White House announced it’s establishing a commission to study school safety.
Other proposals have surfaced in Washington as lawmakers reevaluate the nation’s gun laws after 17 people were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
A parade of speakers, including local police chiefs, praised Markey’s legislation at Monday’s press conference as a common-sense measure that’s taking what’s operated efficiently in Massachusetts and replicating it a larger scale.
They also said they’re counting on the pressure brought to bear on Washington by the teenage survivors of last month’s Parkland shooting and the school walkouts that have followed elsewhere.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh called it a chance to take “advantage of this sensitive time in our country” to push change.
“Obviously they don’t listen to the adults in Washington. Hopefully they’ll listen to the students,” said Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans. “What we’re proposing here is great. I just hope we have some luck in Washington. Honestly they don’t seem to be getting the message. … I don’t know what it’s going to take.”
Markey said he was in the beginning stages of recruiting co-sponsors for the bill and he did not outline specifics of a lobbying strategy. But he said he intends to work with Walsh to “find support” among police chiefs in major cities outside of Massachusetts as well.
“We have to build this as a chiefs moment in conjunction with the children of the country,” Markey said after the press conference.
“I think the children’s crusade that is beginning is going to put real pressure on Congress to do things that are meaningful. I don’t think this is going away this year. I think it’s only going to intensify. I think they’re trying to get away with the lowest common denominator but not dealing with the real issues that need to be put in place in order to provide real gun safety.”