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Robert A. DeLeo Headshot

Massachusetts Creates National Gun Safety Model

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While states in much of the country were content to take quick action to address gun violence, Massachusetts took time to craft a comprehensive and strong bill which has garnered wide support.

Our law in Massachusetts is unique. We are, for example, the only state that both closes the intractable secondary gun sales loophole and gives law enforcement officials discretion over allowing rifle and shotgun ownership.

Following the horrific instance of violence in Newtown, Connecticut, we in Massachusetts opted to reconsider our gun laws, already among the strongest in the nation.

We knew however, that it was crucial to not only have strong gun laws, but to have effective gun laws. To achieve this goal, we would need to take smart, decisive action and draft a consensus-driven bill. While the emotional impetus to pass new legislation in the wake of tragedies is understandable, we focused on creating a durable law that would close existing loopholes, create a sustainable framework to stop gun trafficking and establish best practices for school safety.

I took the unusual step to name a team with individuals who represented diverse viewpoints from many fields -- academia, public safety, mental health, among others -- under the leadership of Northeastern University Associate Dean Jack McDevitt. This committee devised a number of strong recommendations which formed the basis of our gun legislation. I urge other states to consider the process we undertook and the provisions of this bill as we work towards safer, more just nation.

Central to the law was the role of local police chiefs. In Massachusetts police chiefs have long held authority to turn down a resident's requests for a license to carry but have not had oversight into who can purchase a rifle or shotgun. Because of this, if an individual was denied a license to carry, they could turn around and obtain a different type of firearm. I must ask: After someone is gravely injured because a gun got into the hands of a dangerous person, does it matter what kind of gun it is? Under the new law officials can weigh in on who can obtain all types of firearms.

To curtail gun trafficking and address the secondary gun sale loophole, the law creates an online portal for private sales. This will ensure that secondary sales are subject to proper monitoring and information sharing without excessively burdening gun owners. It also enhances record keeping efforts in numerous ways, including a new requirement wherein police departments must trace any firearm used to commit a crime and report related data. It is my hope that these provisions will lay the groundwork for state-to-state collaboration as we get a better handle on how to quell illegal gun use.

We understand that different communities have distinct needs so in addressing school safety we began at home and in our communities. Massachusetts will develop a safe and support schools framework that districts can individualize and implement. Schools will also establish plans to bolster mental health efforts and work in tandem with police departments to identify problems early on.

Taken together these provisions translate to a meaningful improvement to state law. Says Laura Cutilletta of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence: "This smart new law gives law enforcement an opportunity to object when a dangerous person applies for a long gun permit. Although other states require a license to purchase a handgun and/or long gun, only one other state -- New Jersey -- provides law enforcement discretion during the application process for both types of permits." And, she adds, only Illinois has a similar provision to the private sale gun portal.

No state has both these key provisions.

Too often the discussion around gun violence revolves around action on the national level or hasty lawmaking on the stateside in the wake of horrible events. In Massachusetts, we believe there is value in taking time and making lasting changes that improve society over the long-term. Our gun law does just that.