Despite strict gun laws, Massachusetts is part of the national gun control debate

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A bipartisan group of 20 U.S. senators announced a gun safety reform plan on Sunday, signaling a step forward in efforts to address recent back-to-back mass shootings while balancing Second Amendment rights.

Key points in the package include a “thorough review” of the mental and juvenile health records of potential gun buyers under the age of 21, support for state and tribal governments to implement said laws “red flag” like Massachusetts’ 2018 law that takes people’s guns away. deemed dangerous, and “major investments” to facilitate access to community mental health and suicide prevention programs, according to the announcement.

News of the federal compromise drew praise from Massachusetts-based gun law reform advocates.

“Our tough gun laws are great,” said Rina Schneur, co-chair of the Massachusetts chapter of advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. “But they’re only as good as our borders and we don’t have state lines, so having federal gun laws is also important.”

Massachusetts is generally applauded for having some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but as a potential federal gun control deal emerges, Schneur and others say that if the state wants staying ahead on the issue, restricting all gun purchases to those 21 and older, and banning ghost guns are on the list of local reforms.

Ari Freilich is director of state policy for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national organization formed in the wake of the 2011 assassination attempt on former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The organization’s latest annual gun law scorecard gave Massachusetts an A grade for its laws.

Freilich identified age requirements as one place where Massachusetts lags other states with strict gun regulations.

With parental permission, children as young as 15 can obtain a firearm identification card required to own low-capacity rifles and shotguns in Massachusetts, and a person must be at least 18 years to buy one of these guns. Other firearms, such as large-capacity handguns, rifles and shotguns, require people to obtain a carry license and be at least 21 years old to purchase.

“The Uvalde school shooter purchased his murder weapons just days after becoming eligible under Texas law at the age of 18,” Freilich said. “In some states he wouldn’t have been able to buy those guns for three years.”

Guns like the one used in the Uvalde attack are known as AR-15 style rifles as they are modeled after the popular semi-automatic pistol first manufactured by ArmaLite, Inc. These pistols are sometimes referred to as assault weapons and are banned in Massachusetts.

Although federal law restricts the sale of long guns to persons 18 years of age or older, a handful of states have passed stricter laws. California, Illinois, and a few other states require buyers of rifles and shotguns to be at least 21 years old. This month, New York enacted a higher age limit for buying semi-automatic rifles. — a response to last month’s mass shooting in which an armed teenager is suspected of opening fire on a Buffalo grocery store in a predominantly black community.

Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, the state association of gun owners, said he would not support such a law. He referred to a recent federal appeals court ruling that found California’s ban on the sale of certain firearms to adults under 21 unconstitutional.

“The carnage we’ve seen from these killers, the common denominator isn’t access to a certain tool, it’s that they’re seriously mentally ill and they’re allowed to walk among us” , Wallace said.

Last year a team of researchers who examined mass shooters found this many suffered from mental illness who were not treated while committing their crimes.

“If we will, once again, kick in the street [with an age threshold increase] what happens when this psychotic killer turns 21? ” He asked.

Another immediate step endorsed by gun safety organizations is a ban on so-called ghost guns, or user-assembled firearms that typically lack serial numbers and are difficult for law enforcement to trace. ‘order.

Sellers of such weapons are exploiting a loophole that allows weapon parts to be bought and sold more freely than fully assembled weapons.

This Nov. 27, 2019, file photo shows “ghost guns” on display at the San Francisco Police Department headquarters in San Francisco. Privately-made firearms without serial numbers are increasingly appearing at crime scenes in the United States

Haven Daley / AP

President Joe Biden’s administration tried to solve the problem with a new US Department of Justice policy which will legally define easy-to-assemble ghost gun kits as firearms and require sellers to obtain a federal license, include serial numbers on their products, and conduct background checks on buyers prior to sale. Gun rights advocates have vowed to challenge the rule.

“I don’t think a law enforcement-facing approach to our civil liberties is the right way to think about it,” said Cody Wilson, founder of the non-profit gun plan. lucrative Defense Distributed.

Wilson pleaded guilty to injuring a child, a felony, after having sex with an underage girl. While federal law prohibits felons from buying or selling guns in stores, Wilson’s plea deal allows him to retain ownership of his guns and run a business that sells gun-making blueprints. 3D printed weapons.

Wilson said responsible commercial manufacturers should serialize their components and engage with law enforcement to help solve crimes. But he doesn’t believe phantom guns are the problem Biden and activists claim to be, pointing to the lack of phantom guns in recent shootings that have gripped the national consciousness.

“Our space – the ghost weapon space in particular – is emerging with a clientele or clientele that doesn’t trust law enforcement,” Wilson said in an interview with GBH News. “I don’t want the NSA and the FBI and all these people to have special access to our communications… nor do I want a lot of law enforcement agencies to have access to our files. firearms.”

The exact number of phantom guns used to commit crimes in Massachusetts remains unclear.

In an email exchange earlier this month, a Massachusetts State Police media officer said their database was unable to determine how many ghost guns had been recovered from the crime scenes over the past year, but “the actual criminal charge would be the same for any illegally owned firearm (including ghost guns).”

In Boston, police said 9% of 636 guns recovered from crime scenes last year were ghost guns. The issue came into the local spotlight after a recent arrest led to the seizure of several pieces of firearms in what Acting Suffolk County Prosecutor Kevin Hayden called a “ghost gun factory”.

Freilich said phantom guns are typically a daily problem in states that heavily regulate gun ownership. He said some states have enacted laws to treat gun cores the same as firearms and/or regulate 3D printers that can be used to create gun parts.

Ruth Zakarin, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said her organization supports both raising the minimum purchase age and tighter regulation of phantom guns to address incidents of gun violence. more common in local communities. Firearms were the instrument of death in nearly 30% of the 150 recorded homicides in the state in 2021, according to data from the State Public Security Executive Bureau.

“Gun violence happens all the time in Massachusetts communities,” Zakarin said. That fact, she said, can easily be drowned out by the public’s fixation on mass shootings, which are just one type of gun violence.

“And there should be a public outcry over these mass shootings, it’s absolutely horrific and traumatic. But, we also want to make sure that we always put a lens on the violence that’s happening particularly in urban communities, all the time,” Zakarin said.

His organization also supports a pending invoice this would require the state to conduct a thorough analysis of data collected from firearms following shootings.

To approach the issue from yet another angle, State Treasurer Deb Goldberg has again proposed triggering the public pension fund to divest from gun-related businesses.

About $2 million of the $101.5 billion in the pension system, or just under 2%, is spent on gun-related investments.

Goldberg proposed the move in 2018 after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where another teenage shooter killed 17 people and injured as many more.

The measure was considered this spring and since then, according to his office, no lawmakers have spoken about it so far.

Several lawmakers did not respond to GBH News’ requests for comment on Goldberg’s proposal.

“We will move the needle on gun violence when we take a variety of means to effect change,” Zakarin said, expressing support for Goldberg’s idea.

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