Are new proposed laws regarding guns in Massachusetts and mental health services sensible and pragmatic steps? Or are they knee-jerk measures that won't increase safety?
Gov. Deval Patrick introduced new legislation Wednesday along those lines in the wake of the .
"I am encouraged by the palpable consensus in our Legislature that the time for action is now. All of us must pull in the same direction to bring about real change in this state and across the country," Patrick said in a press release.
The bill would require gun purchasers to undergo background checks at gun shows, reduce access to high-powered rounds of ammunition, and limit the number of weapon sales by licensed dealers to not more than one gun per licensed individual per month.
Punishments for crimes involving guns would also sharpen, with tiered punishments for possessing different weapons on school property. The bill would give police the authority to arrest without a warrant in order to quickly diffuse a dangerous situation on school property.
Four new crimes would be created—assault and battery by means of a firearm, assault by means of a firearm, being a felon in possession of a firearm and commission of a violent misdemeanor while in possession of a weapon. Additionally, the bill increases the authorized minimum penalties for third and fourth offenses of illegal possession and carrying of firearms, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns and increases the maximum punishment for a second offense.
Mental health issues also became a hot topic after the school shooting and other mass shootings in the U.S. this year. Patrick's bill would enhance background checks by requiring courts to transmit all relevant mental health records to the state's criminal justice information system, which would result in this information being included in a national registry that all states access before issuing gun licenses.
The state Department of Mental Health would also get a 3.3 percent increase in the governor's fiscal 2014 budget proposal, with funding for team to travel to locations with individuals in crisis; training for middle and high school personnel in recognizing and addressing mental illness in students; and more funding for crisis intervention training for first responders, among other initiatives.
Gun ownership advocates have argued that stricter gun control laws haven't had an effect on reducing gun violence and instead places additional burdens on lawful owners. Jim Wallace, president of the Gun Owners Action League, the NRA affiliate in Massachusetts, told WBUR that current Massachusetts gun laws that passed in 1998 have been an "abject failure" and that they're "complicated and convoluted" for lawful gun owners to understand.
"What we know here in Massachusetts is that in 1998 when the gun control act was passed, we had 1.5 million licensed gun owners in this state," Wallace told WBUR. "We are now down to about 230,000 to 250,000. And the sad part is while our numbers have been reduced by 85 percent, gun crime as increased by 200 percent."
Wallace added that the laws and state Legislature are "focusing way too much on the good guys and not nearly enough on the bad guys."
What do you think of the governor's proposal? Are these pragmatic reforms, or will they be ineffective in reducing gun violence? Tell us what you think in the comments below.