Column: Common Sense Solutions to Gun Violence

Recently, the Massachusetts Senate passed thoughtful, comprehensive legislation addressing gun violence that can make a substantive difference for the better in our public health and public safety.  Impressively, a measure of consensus was achieved between gun safety advocates and gun rights activists, with both sides of the issue praising the final legislation.

I was proud to support this legislation.  Further, knowing that this is an issue that can generate significant passion, I was also very pleased that the vast majority of the calls and e-mails I received from constituents – on all sides of the issue – were thoughtful, reasonable, and respectful.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the key provisions of the bill, measures which strengthen oversight, address mental health issues, and generate better communication between schools and law enforcement, without infringing on Second Amendment rights.

The bill calls for stricter background checks, enhanced penalties, new gun-related crimes, increased protections in schools, among other provisions designed to overall ensure a safer Commonwealth.

The bill permits Massachusetts to join the National Instant Background Check System, allowing the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS) to transmit to the U.S. Attorney General all the information that is required of the system.

The bill makes changes to tighten and secure regulations for authorized gun dealers and sales. It authorizes gun dealers to acquire criminal offender record information for all of their employees.   Further, the bill requires all secondary market gun sales to be conducted over a real-time web portal to be developed under DCJIS.

In a measure that should please those concerned with arbitrary or capricious infringement on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, the bill requires law enforcement to document in writing the rationale for denying a License to Carry (LTC).  This will provide any citizen who feels that he/she was wrongfully denied a LTC the opportunity to appeal the decision and receive due process.  The bill also eliminates the 90-day renewal process for both the Firearms Identification (FID) Card and LTC, and leaves unchanged existing FID permitting standards.

The bill removes pepper spray and mace from the Firearms Identification Card requirements for those ages 18 or older, but still requires persons between the ages of 15 and 18 to obtain a firearms identification card, with the permission of a parent or guardian, to possess pepper spray.

To support a secure and safe learning environment in our schools, the bill puts in place many provisions to tighten security and increase communication and training in events of emergency, including amending the medical emergency response plans schools are required to develop by requiring consultation with local police, fire, and emergency personnel.

In addition, the bill requires chiefs of police, in consultation with superintendents, to assign school resource officers to provide law enforcement and services to school districts, a measure that is subject to appropriation from the state Legislature for implementation.  School districts must also have access to two-way communication devices for communication with police and fire departments during emergencies.

Addressing a concern raised by individuals on all sides of the issue in the Commonwealth and across the country, the bill places an emphasis on expanding mental health awareness and treatment, implementing required training regarding suicide awareness and prevention to licensed school personnel.

The Senate and House, which previously passed its own gun safety legislation, will now work together to produce a final, compromise bill.  Ultimately, I’m confident that the measures in this legislation achieve the desired goal of making our communities safer without infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens.  Of course, no one piece of legislation will prevent all acts of violence from ever occurring, but I believe that this legislation represents true progress in reducing gun violence.

Additionally, I’m heartened that the process that generated the bill brought people together from all sides of the issue, rather than driving people further apart.  This serves as an example of what we can accomplish when we are willing to compromise and listen to one another to achieve common sense solutions.