Gun violence, gun safety and gun licensing are just a few of the issues that the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety has been considering during the last few months. With some of the strictest gun laws in the country, Massachusetts lawmakers have had a renewed focus on gun issues because of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. There are several efforts going on simultaneously that focus on reducing gun violence; public hearings are being held by the Joint Committee on Public Safety, a gun violence “listening tour” hosted by Chairman Harold Naughton has been making stops across the state, and Speaker DeLeo’s independent task force on gun issues is expected to make recommendations soon.
The Joint Committee on Public Safety, co-chaired by Representative Naughton and Senator James Timilty, has already held three public hearings on the approximately 60 bills currently filed in the Legislature. A fourth hearing at the State House is expected to be scheduled in the next few weeks. The first three hearings drew crowds as large as 400 attendees and lasted up to seven hours. The first hearing was held at Cape Cod Community College, the second hearing was held at Assumption College, and the most recent hearing was held in Springfield.
Among other things, the bills under review deal with everything from firearm identification cards, requiring GPS locators in guns, a statewide gun offender registry, mental health issues, school safety, hunting, and mandatory insurance for gun owners. However, not all of the bills are trying to limit access to guns- one bill actually includes a repeal of Massachusetts’ ban on assault weapons.
Representative Naughton’s gun violence “listening tour” has been designed as an open forum to promote a discussion on preventative solutions to gun violence. The listening tour has already visited Worcester, Chicopee and Fall River. These forums have brought together residents, public safety officials, local officials, and community organizations to share ideas and have candid discussions about what’s going on in their communities.
The goal of the work of the Public Safety Committee is to recommend comprehensive gun law reform legislation in the next few months. While the Public Safety Committee is holding public hearings and conducting the listening tour, Speaker DeLeo’s independent task force is expected to make its recommendations to the Legislature at the end of this month.
The BBA’s own working group on gun-related bills still continues to review the bills being considered by the Legislature. Among our group’s members are attorneys who regularly deal with civil rights and mental health issues, both of whom have helped the group understand the various dimensions of these bills. This summer, the BBA group has been trying to formulate a set of principles meant to address the important public safety and civil rights issues that come into play when thinking about any changes to these complicated laws dealing with gun ownership and gun violence.
– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association