Mass. lawmakers weigh tougher gun control

BOSTON – 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, Conn., 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 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.
Southwick Police Lt. David Ricardi does not believe stricter gun laws is the answer.
“I don’t see how they could get any more strict than they already are,” he said. “People will get through the cracks if they want to get a hold of a gun illegally.”
He did say that the laws are in place for safety reasons.
“We want the people who have the privilege of a license to respect that,” he said.
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.
Ricardi said locally, many firearms permits are issued for hunting.  There are fees in place for permits and there is a rigorous process for those who want a permit.
All permits, including FID cards, chemical cards, and License to Carry (LTC) cards, must be issued through local police. Ricardi said in order to apply for a permit, an individual must first attend an eight-hour training certified by the state police.
“Then they come to us to apply for an FID or LTC,” Ricardi said. “I am the licensing agent here, but the final approval comes from the chief.”
The application comes with a fee of $100 for and LTC for people age 21 and older, and $100 for an FID for anyone over age 18. The fee for an FID for individuals age 16-18 is $25, as is the license to carry a chemical repellant such as Mace.
Ricardi said the FID is mainly for hunting and the LTC is for handguns and rifles.
The approval process includes an extensive background check.
“We do a criminal and personal background check, check with the Department of Mental Health – and we don’t just check here, we check throughout the country,” Ricardi said.
There are numerous disqualifiers outlined by the state.
Ricardi said there are “hundreds” of firearms permits issued in the town – too many to easily count. However, the state database of permits is readily available and used by police when responding to calls.
“We do check to see if there is a licensed gun in a home before responding, especially to a domestic call,” Ricardi said. “We check before every domestic and take the weapon, then I decide if it will be returned to the owner.”
According to the records department at the Westfield Police Department, there are a total of 996 permits issued in the city, including FID cards and Mace, Class A and B LTC, and law enforcement.
According to Boston.com, the number of gun permits issued in Massachusetts is on the rise, with 258,095 permits issued in 2012, up from 243,284 in 2011 and 220,933 in 2010.

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