Massachusetts Poised to Create National Public Safety Model
(BOSTON) – Representative Jeffrey Sánchez joined his colleagues in the House to pass comprehensive gun violence legislation which, for the first time, authorizes a police chief to deny a firearm identification (FID) card if there is credible information that the applicant poses a public safety risk, authorizes licensed gun dealers to access criminal offender record information (CORI) and prohibits a convicted felon from acquiring a FID card.
The bill enhances record-keeping efforts and takes decisive steps to curtail gun trafficking by establishing a criminal firearms and trafficking unit within the State Police. “One of the biggest concerns I have heard from advocates was the high frequency of guns being trafficked to Massachusetts from other states in New England,” Sánchez commented, “I commend Speaker DeLeo for recognizing the importance of addressing firearms trafficking in this legislation. My experiences have taught me that finding out where the gun comes from is the one of the most important questions we should be asking in addressing this issue.”
To keep track of any loopholes created by secondary sales, the legislation requires the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS) to create an online portal for private sales. This will ensure that secondary sales are subject to proper monitoring and information sharing without placing an additional burden on gun owners. The bill also requires local licensing authorities to trace any firearm used to commit a crime and report relevant data, brings Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and requires gun dealers to obtain a CORI check when hiring employees.
“This bill makes significant strides in school safety, mental illness and substance abuse, issues that are often forgotten when discussing gun violence,” Sánchez said.
The bill creates a more standardized licensing process to improve violence prevention. While law enforcement officials have a procedure for issuing a license to carry (LTC), which is used to purchase or possess any legal firearm including hand guns, this bill establishes a similar process for the issuance of a FID card which is used for a shotgun or rifle. The legislation specifies that a person may only be denied a FID card or LTC based on unsuitability if they are deemed a risk to public safety based on reliable information. It also updates the law so that a licensing authority, upon a determination of unsuitability, must provide the applicant with the specific reasons for such determination in writing.
The legislation includes numerous provisions to increase accountability and oversight including:
- Increases the fine for failure to report a lost or stolen firearm;
- Requires applicants renewing their LTC or FID cards to verify that they have not lost any firearms or had any firearms stolen;
- Establishes penalties for gun dealers who fail to report a lost or stolen weapon; and,
- Increases the penalties for improper storage while improving related awareness and education measures for gun owners
The legislation includes provisions that will have immediate effects on school safety as well as provisions that will result in identifying best practices. It directs the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to develop a safe and supportive schools framework that each school district will then individualize and implement, and requires school districts to have a school resource officer to provide security services. The bill also:
- Requires schools to develop plans to address the mental health needs of their students;
- Requires schools to have two-way communication devices for specific use with police and fire officials;
- Increases the penalty for carrying a firearm on school grounds and makes the offense a statutory right of arrest; and,
- Establishes a special commission to study and report on mental, emotional and behavioral health in public schools.
This legislation extends the House’s commitment to addressing mental health problems and preventing domestic violence. It includes a number of provisions to ensure law enforcement officials have appropriate public documents relating to applicants’ health and criminal histories and requires courts to report information regarding domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health. More than 60 percent of all firearm deaths are categorized as suicides. The bill heightens suicide prevention efforts and training for educators, health care providers and firearm owners and dealers. It also directs the Department of Public Health (DPH) to collect, analyze and report on suicides and creates a physician training program so doctors can advise on suicide and the risk posed by guns in homes.
The legislation improves administrative efficiencies for gun owners and increases rationality in the licensing process as follows:
- It does not disqualify individuals with a misdemeanor punishable by less than two years from acquiring a firearm.
- Eliminates the 90 day renewal process for FID cards and ensures legal protection for individuals who have applied for renewal;
- Lowers fines for expired cards;
- Allows individuals to petition for judicial review for any restrictions placed on licenses; and,
- Allows minors to hunt with supervision of an individual who holds a FID or LTC card.
The legislation also:
- Eliminates Class B licenses;
- Increases the punishment for being armed with a firearm while carjacking; and,
- Establishes penalties for unlawfully transporting firearms into the Commonwealth for the commission of criminal activity or unlawful distribution; and.
The bill was passed in the House 112 to 38.