Mass. lawmakers weigh tough gun control measures
BOSTON (AP) -- Massachusetts lawmakers are weighing tougher gun control measures, from requiring gun owners to buy liability insurance to setting tighter standards for firearms licenses.
Although the push for new gun legislation comes in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, those pushing for tighter rules say they're motivated more by the gun deaths that occur in Massachusetts on a routine basis.
State Rep. David Linsky, a Natick Democrat, said he plans to file by mid-January what he called a comprehensive bill to end gun violence. On Thursday, Linsky met with more than 100 lawmakers and legislative staffers of both parties to discuss possible measures.
"One thing was common throughout the room and that was an absolute commitment to end gun violence in Massachusetts," Linsky told reporters after the meeting.
Linsky said Massachusetts has no effective screening process to keep firearms out of the hands of those with serious mental illnesses. One possible option is to require individuals seeking a gun license -- already needed to purchase a firearm -- to sign a waiver giving access to their mental health history.
Linsky, a former prosecutor, said lawmakers are looking at other measures such as toughening rules for storage of firearms and possibly requiring gun owners to purchase liability insurance in the event that their firearms are used to harm another individual.
"You need liability insurance to drive a car in Massachusetts in case you get into an accident," Linsky said. "Well maybe you need liability insurance if that gun gets used and causes damage to somebody."
Gun rights advocates say lawmakers are focusing too much attention on law-abiding gun owners and not enough on criminals.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, said the state's guns laws are too convoluted and confusing. He said they need to be completely overhauled.
"Massachusetts gun laws have been an abject failure," he said.
Wallace said lawmakers have ignored his group's recommendations including the creation of what he called a "prohibited persons list" which he said would make it easier for police to quickly determine if a person can legally carry a firearm.
He said the list would include violent felons, illegal aliens and others.
Gov. Deval Patrick pushed lawmakers to take action in the days after the Newtown shootings.
Patrick had previously filed legislation that would restrict gun owners to purchasing one firearm a month and clamp down on so-called "straw purchasers" who buy guns legally and then resell them to convicted felons and others barred from owning guns.
Patrick said trying to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill is also a priority.
"We have got to figure a way both to have as robust a system of care for people who are suffering from mental health issues and a way to assure that that information is available to people who are selling guns so that we can keep them out of the wrong hands," Patrick said Thursday.
Patrick said there are other options, including increasing homeowner insurance for those who keep guns in their homes.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat whose district includes Mattapan where four people -- including a 2-year-old boy in his mother's arms -- were shot to death in a drug-related robbery in 2010, said gun violence is an ongoing challenge.
Chang-Diaz said lawmakers also need to crack down on "the supply chain from the legal market to the illegal market" that can wreak havoc in urban areas across the state.
"We have great gun laws in Massachusetts and we have the results to show for it. Our gun deaths are relatively low." Chang-Diaz said. "But when we're looking at these numbers and these kinds of tragedies, we have to ask ourselves what else we can do."