GOAL’s Review of the Report from the Committee to Reduce Firearm Violence
“Strategies for Reducing Gun Violence in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts”
February 6, 2014
Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL) would like to thank the Speaker of the House for taking a well thought out, deliberate process towards reviewing the gun laws. The tragic murders that took place in Newtown over a year ago caused great pain throughout our nation. No person can bear witness to the aftermath of such atrocities without being affected. It is unfortunate that in that state of great emotional pain some politicians chose to act in haste. These acts left some states with very poorly thought out legislation and eventually laws that are now being challenged in court from all sides. Thankfully, through the leadership of the Massachusetts Speaker of the House a more deliberate path was chosen.
In the spring of 2013, House Speaker DeLeo appointed a non-legislative body to review the Massachusetts gun laws to find areas that they could be improved. The body was named the Committee to Reduce Gun Violence (“Committee”). With the announcement of this committee and its mission, the members of GOAL were very hopeful that this independent panel of professionals and academics would conduct a reasoned review of the state’s gun laws. After a decade and a half of living under the most convoluted and confusing gun laws in the country, our members finally had some hope for relief. Sadly, it is GOAL’s opinion that the Committee let our members, as well as the Speaker down.
It is GOAL’s firm belief that any review of the Massachusetts gun laws must begin by acknowledging that the Commonwealth’s gun laws have been an abject failure. Since the passage of the 1998 gun control laws, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Injury Surveillance Program (ISP) reports that gun crime has drastically increased in the Commonwealth. In the same time period, licensed gun owners have been decreased by over 80%. In the absence of using these facts as a base, the report as a whole is made suspect regardless of whether we agree with parts or not. Unfortunately, the Committee chose to ignore these facts and instead relied on flawed testimony that attempts to paint the Commonwealth’s laws in a positive light.
It is evident throughout the report that the Committee did not have a firm grasp of Massachusetts gun laws. This lack of knowledge is quite common as very few individuals have a workable knowledge of the Massachusetts gun laws.
Summary of GOAL’s Positions on the Committee’s Recommendations
Below is GOAL’s critique of the recommendations of the Committee’s report. GOAL does agree with some of the recommendations and those positions are denoted. While agreeing with some positions, GOAL’s critiques are intended to provide a clear explanation of our objections to others and if possible how they can be corrected.
Prevent Unsuitable Persons from Acquiring Firearms
GOAL opposes this recommendation as suggested, but there is room for improvement.
It has always been GOAL’s contention that the “suitability” clause is unconstitutional as it stands. There should never be an instance where citizens should have to prove their suitability or need to exercise a civil right. As such, the suitability clause should be stricken as a whole.
In this section, the Committee seems to recognize that there has been a long-term problem with the so-called suitability standard. The report is unclear as to how it perceives the problem, as their language is written from the view of licensing officers rather than aggrieved applicants. While the majority of chiefs have always respected the civil rights of the citizens there are a good number of them that have not.
One major problem with the report is that it recommends NOT placing a definition of suitability in law. The reason stated is to “provide the necessary flexibility and discretion needed in allowing the licensing authority to make a reasoned decision”. If we are not going to protect the civil rights of citizens through the power of law, then how does this improve the plight of the lawful gun owner?
Elimination of the Class B License
GOAL supports this recommendation as it begins the path toward a single license. GOAL has already filed legislation that seeks to remove this license in H.3264 “An Act Relative to Civil Rights and Public Safety. This legislation is a comprehensive package that would reform the state’s gun laws and licensing system.
Firearm Identification Cards Included in the Definition of Suitability
GOAL opposes this recommendation as it would increase the ability of the licensing agents to further restrict the civil rights of lawful citizens. Additionally, there has been no evidence shown that demonstrates a problem with the statutory issuance of an FID Card that this measure would fix.
The Committee also did not address arbitrary restrictions. Many lawful citizens who seek to exercise their civil right to keep and bear arms are often automatically or arbitrarily restricted as to how they may exercise that right. Many citizens rightly feel this is an unjust attack on their character and their civil rights. The committee should have addressed this in this section.
No Further Restrictions on Magazine Capacity
GOAL supports this recommendation, but would have hoped for a greater investigation as to why any limits currently exist. A logical determination should have led to the repeal of these laws in Massachusetts as they have served no purpose in deterring crime. Repealing these laws would also reflect the national trend as the federal government and most states have done away with these restrictions where they existed.
The Ninety (90) Day License Renewal Process
GOAL supports streamlining the licensing system and assuring that licenses are valid for all lawful purposes while going through a renewal process. We think this is what the Committee is suggesting, but the language in the report is confusing. It refers to doing away with the “90 day expiration period”. We believe they are confusing the 40-day period to process a license application and the 90-day grace period protecting those who are waiting for the process to be completed.
GOAL opposes civil fines for expired licenses at least until the state can demonstrate its ability to functionally maintain a workable license system.
One glaring omission that should be discussed in this section is the lack of oversight of the entire licensing system. The Executive Office of Public Safety continues to deny any authority over the local licensing authorities. This creates a system that is designed to be broken. At the top of every bureaucracy there must be some person or entity in charge that has the ultimate authority and responsibility and that simply does not exist in the licensing system.
Improved and Consistent Firearm Safety and Training Required to Obtain a License
GOAL supports firearm safety training but opposes it as a mandatory hurdle to exercising a civil right. The Committee’s recommendation includes a mandatory live fire component. Again while we encourage people to seek training, what demonstrable problem exists that would necessitate the need for this mandate?
The Committee also suggests that a “module on suicide” be included in any mandatory firearm safety training. We believe that suicide prevention is a noble cause that should be pursued, but are unsure how that curriculum would be formatted.
The recommendation also includes that the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association together with the Gun Control Advisory Board create a standardized and accredited training course. With due respect to the members of those entities and their commitment to safety, neither are training experts. The expertise in firearm safety training lies with the National Rifle Association, GOAL and our affiliated organizations.
Establish Consistency with Federal and Among State Laws
Consistency in law is always important. The Massachusetts gun laws are strewn with contradictions and gray areas. The Committee has three recommendations to pursue under this heading.
· The first would be to prevent a convicted felon from receiving an FID card. GOAL would oppose this recommendation. It should be clarified that only nonviolent felons are allowed to acquire an FID Card.
· The next suggestion is to deny a federally prohibited person from acquiring any firearm. Since federal law allows for citizens to re-establish their Second Amendment rights, GOAL would need to see more detailed wording on this point.
· The last recommendation deals with the confusing handgun laws and regulations. The Committee proposes to make the Attorney General’s list and the Approved Firearms Roster under the Executive Office of Public Safety consistent. The language in the recommendation is incorrect as there is no Attorney General’s list. Ideally, both the AG’s regulations and the EOPSS roster should be repealed as there is no credible evidence to demonstrate a need or positive result of either.
Legal Gun Owners
This seems to be more of an opinion and general statement rather than a recommendation. The statement merely blames irresponsible gun owners for supplying the criminal element with guns. We are not sure what the Committee is suggesting to be done, but there are already a host of laws that would punish criminals for such activity.
Reducing Gun Trafficking
Massachusetts already has very tough laws on the illegal “trafficking” of firearms. Specifically MGL Chapter 269, Section 10E. This law provides for penalties up to ten years in prison and $50,000 fines. To our knowledge, there has never been a prosecution under this law in the fifteen years it has been on the books. There needs to be a serious discussion with prosecutors and law enforcement as to why the current laws are ineffective. (This goes to working from the premise of why the state’s gun laws are a failure.)
The bulk of the recommendations in this section merely place more burdens on lawful gun owners rather than punishing illegal gun traffickers and the criminals that perpetrate crimes with illegaly possessed guns.
The suggested requirement that all private sales go through a licensed retailer is yet another answer to a problem that simply does not exist. All legal sales in Massachusetts already require a background check. Licensed gun owners are limited to four private sales per calendar year. Both the seller and the purchaser must be properly licensed for the gun being transferred in a private sale. Both participants also are required to jointly file an FA-10 form to the state within seven days of the private sale – either online or through the mail. To not do so is a crime under Chapter 140 Section 128B that is punishable by: “the first offense be punished by a fine of not less than $500 nor more than $1,000 and for any subsequent offense by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than ten years.”
It is also important to recognize there is no such thing as a “gun show loophole” in the Commonwealth. Licensed retailers at gun shows in Massachusetts are required to follow the same procedures that take part in their places of business. For the majority of the gun shows in Massachusetts, both the Executive Office of Public Safety and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives have a public presence to assist retailers and customers.
The mandate to require private transfers through a licensed retailer would yet again add more costs to being a lawful gun owner as retailers would certainly charge a fee for the process.
Recommending an increased fine for not reporting lost or stolen firearms is not an answer to illegal transfers. One of the concerns that we hear from gun owners who have legitimately been victims of loss or theft is the possibility of having their license revoked. Because of the current laws, this is a very real concern. If the state wants lawful gun owners to act as allies, it must work hard to build some trust and partnership with lawful gun owners.
The requirement for the records of “defunct” retailers to go to the state is presumably for tracing ability. GOAL is unsure just how this information would be used. Since the state is not capable of doing its initial job of maintaining a workable and equitable licensing system, it is unlikely it could take on more duties.
The suggested requirement of a lawful citizen signing an affidavit concerning the guns they legally own would be a logistical and civil rights nightmare. The thought of a government making lawful citizens sign such documents should cause anyone to stand up and take notice.
The requirement for licensed retailers to conduct background checks on their employees is not objectionable. The state should keep in mind just how many different people are required to receive background checks for various occupations and activities and plan accordingly to ensure that background checks can be conducted in a timely and reliable manner. It may be prudent for a legislative committee to actually produce a report of how many jobs or activities require a background so that the state can plan accordingly.
The last suggestion in this section is very unclear. It calls for “crime guns” to be routinely traced. Since it is presumed that crime guns are in the hands of criminals, how does the Committee proposed to routinely trace them? The Committee may be suggesting that all firearms recovered from crimes be traced, but the language of the report is very unclear.
GOAL’s legislation H3264 “An Act Relative to Civil Rights and Public Safety” makes very clear recommendations on how guns recovered from criminal acts should be handled. The following is the section of the bill that covers this:
Section 9C. Criminal Firearms and Trafficking Division
There shall be attached to the department of the attorney general a special unit of the state police known as the Criminal Firearms and Trafficking Division, heretofore referred to as the division. The division shall assist the office of the attorney general in investigating and prosecuting all state firearm crimes. In its investigations the division shall compile data regarding but not limited to the following:
(1) If the suspect would be considered a prohibited person as defined in Section 9A;
(2) Determine if the suspect obtained the firearm illegally;
(3) Determine the source from which the suspect illegally obtained the firearm;
(4) Create a database of all firearms recovered as stolen property;
(5) Create a database of all firearms used in state firearm crimes within the commonwealth. The database shall include the following:
a. The make, model and serial number of the firearm;
b. Any fingerprint evidence found on the firearm;
c. Any ballistic evidence that can be retrieved from the crime scene;
d. If the criminal use of the firearm was related to known gang activity;
Mandatory Storage of Firearms
GOAL supports giving citizens tax incentives to purchase safe storage equipment. We currently have two pieces of legislation that would accomplish this task.
H. 3275 “An Act Relative to Sales Tax Exemptions for Gun Safes and Trigger Locks”
H.3276 “An Act Relative to Gun Safe Deductions”
These pieces of legislation would actually encourage gun owners rather than continually threaten them.
GOAL agrees with the Committee that there should be no mandate to store guns outside the home.
Measures to Improve School Safety
There are several suggestions by the Committee to create better action plans throughout school systems. Among those plans is the use of School Resource Officers. This is the same point the National Rifle Association made in 2013 that was received with ridicule. GOAL would like the opportunity to review any such action plans as we may be able to provide some professional input.
GOAL does not support the mandatory “arming” of teachers. They have a tough enough job without being in charge of armed security. Rather, we need to do away with the concept that schools are a victim zone. We can do that by placing doubt in the minds of potential threats. This would include the ability of lawful gun owners to traverse school properties and attend school events. This alone would provide some reasonable safety to our children.
One recommendation in this section is the calling for doubling the penalty for possessing a firearm on school grounds needs serious reconsideration. There is a very important argument that such laws should be repealed entirely. Since the vast majority of mass murders happen in so-called gun free zones, there needs to be a deliberate discussion about changing these polices.
Another glaring omission from this report is any recommendation for firearm safety education in the schools. The vast majority of school systems in Massachusetts offer no such education and it shows. In an age where we provide students with a variety of safety education, why do Massachusetts schools refuse to provide firearm safety education? The only answer is political opinion and that is an unacceptable answer for those who call themselves educational professionals.
Violence, Mental Illness and Substance Abuse
The language in this section is rather confusing. What is obvious is that Massachusetts should become compliant with the 2007 NICs Improvement Amendment Act (NIAA). What may have been helpful is if the Committee offered the following information.
How are the terms "adjudicated as a mental defective" and "committed to a mental institution" defined?
Section 922(g)(4), Title 18, United States Code, prohibits the receipt or possession of firearms by an individual who has been "adjudicated as a mental defective" or "committed to a mental institution." Regulations issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), 27 C.F.R. § 478.11, define these terms as follows:
Adjudicated as a mental defective.
(1) A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease:
· Is a danger to himself or to others; or
· Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.
(2) The term shall include —
· A finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case; and
· Those persons found incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to articles 50a and 72b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 850a, 876b.
Committed to a mental institution. A formal commitment of a person to a mental institution by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority. The term includes a commitment to a mental institution involuntarily. The term includes commitment for mental defectiveness or mental illness. It also includes commitments for other reasons, such as for drug use. The term does not include a person in a mental institution for observation or a voluntary admission to a mental institution
The Governor’s bill, H.47 “An Act to Strengthen and Enhance Firearms Laws in the Commonwealth” purports to address the new requirements of the NIAA, but uses incorrect terms with no definitions. Rather utilizing "adjudicated as a mental defective" or "committed to a mental institution", H.47 uses the term “confined”.
There is another suggestion by the committee that could cause serious problems. Encouraging family members to remove firearms from individuals who might be facing a crisis is not as simple as it may seem. Any such action must be conducted by a person who is properly licensed and is familiar with the laws. It is important for family and friends to lend support and in some cases intervene, but it must be done with great care.
The other problem with this approach is what happens to the firearms when it is perceived that the person is over their crisis. Most family members and friends are often fooled by someone who becomes harmful. Such people often disguise their symptoms to the point where the people closest to them are convinced they are fine. Much more thought would have to be given to any such public service campaign.
Mental Health Services and School Supports
GOAL is not an expert on the mental health needs of the state nor do we purport to be. We have been educated enough in the past few years in dealing with the issue to suggest that the legislature may want to consider a Mental Health Bond Bill.
It is obvious that there needs to be much more investment in mental health in the Commonwealth. It is also apparent that no one person or organization knows exactly what is needed. Is it outpatient services, bed space, major facilities, etc.? The very process of moving a bond bill through the legislative process would greatly aid in the effort to find those answers.
This section discusses the activation of several programs that have been tossed around for many years. GOAL supports measures that effectively reduce gun violence and violence in general. One such program that did not make the list is the Massachusetts Crime Watch Commission. This program was extremely successful in reducing crime in neighborhoods all over the Commonwealth, but was defunded several years ago. The legislature should investigate the possibility of re-instating this highly effective program.
During the press conference for the release of this report several members of the Committee stated that we could not “prosecute our way out of the problem”. While intervention is a very important part of reducing crime and saving youths, it is also necessary to give law enforcement the tools to deal with hardcore criminals. Sadly, the Committee offered no such recommendations.
GOAL would have liked to see the Committee give serious consideration to our legislation, H.3264 “An Act Relative to Civil Rights and Public Safety”. This bill represents the only comprehensive redraft of the failed Massachusetts gun laws. The legislation proposes an entirely new approach to gun laws that would respect the civil rights of lawful citizens and give law enforcement the tools it needs to get tough on the human criminal element. The following are just some of the concepts covered in the legislation.
Here’s how H.3264 would strengthen our criminal laws:
• It creates a special unit of the State Police, known as the Criminal Firearms and Trafficking Division that will be attached to the Department of the Attorney General and will assist that office with the investigation and prosecution of all crimes of violence involving the criminal use of a firearm and intrastate firearms trafficking.
• It will create tough laws to punish prohibited persons who are in possession of firearms.
• Creating laws regarding breaking and entering with the intent to steal a firearm.
• Creating clear to understand unlawful transfer laws.
• Creating laws to punish those engaged in unlawful intrastate commerce of firearms.
• Creating laws preventing the unlawful confiscation of firearms.
• Creating laws regarding the use of a “Deceptive Weapon.”
• Creating a separate definition section for the criminal enforcement chapter.
• Creating a “State Firearm Crime”.
Here’s how H.3264 would enhance individual rights:
• Make it very clear that there is an individual civil right to keep and bear arms and that the government must operate under that presumption.
• Reduce the number and types of firearm licenses (currently four) to one.
• Create understandable and commonsense terminology that is currently used and understood by the firearms owning community.
• Create a new definition of a “Prohibited Person” and using that term throughout the laws as the means of legitimately denying a citizen a firearm license.
• Make the rights inherent for the license based on the age of the holder rather than having to acquire a new license at a particular age.
• Remove the authority of local licensing agents to deny a person’s civil rights without due process.
• Create clear language for the judicial review process of a denied license.
• Remove jail sentences for lawful possession infractions and moving any jail time related offenses to the criminal enforcement chapter.
Once again GOAL would like to commend Speaker DeLeo’s efforts in attempting to take a deliberate and professional approach to this very sensitive issue. It is GOAL’s opinion that the Committee did his request a disservice. The report that was released by the Committee fell short of what a nine month long effort by professionals should have produced. After thoroughly reading the report it was clear that it was not proofed or vetted by anyone who understands the current gun laws. While there are a few things that could benefit lawful gun owners, the bulk of the recommendations call for more burdens on law abiding citizens.
Since the body of the material did not begin with the premise that Massachusetts gun laws have been an abject failure at reducing crime or respecting the civil rights of citizens one would logically suppose it was destined to fail. In the Committees own conclusion it was giving “recommendations to further reduce gun violence in the Commonwealth.” This statement alone is a great indicator of the lack of understanding of the state of violence. Gun violence in Massachusetts has risen over the last fifteen years. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health ISP Reports gun related homicides have doubled and gun related assaults have tripled since the 1998 Gun Control Act became law. Sadly, there is no mention of this in the report.
There are currently volumes of problems with the current laws that prevent effective criminal enforcement and smooth exercise of the civil right to keep and bear arms. These problems range from legal definitions that make no sense to gun owners, to restrictions on certain firearms in common use that serve no purpose, to storage and transportation laws that confuse law enforcement, to a complete lack of state oversight of the entire licensing system. The Committee had an outstanding opportunity to address fifteen years of frustration and failed law, but chose not to.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment is the omission of any substantive recommendations that would actually reduce gun violence. Intervention programs for youth are important, but so is education and that was ignored in the report.
It’s important to deter and fight crimes with intervention programs. There are useful tools and creative initiatives that should be considered that will aid law enforcement and prosecutors in catching and punishing illegal gun traffickers and violent criminals. These same criminals are mostly responsible for recruiting youth into the criminal world. Getting these “recruiters” off the streets and away from our youth goes a long way towards intervention and reducing crime.
In light of this substandard report, GOAL would like to offer the Speaker our assistance in crafting a professional document and any subsequent legislation. Our expertise in dealing with the day-to-day operation of the current gun laws added with our professional level of firearm safety experience should result in a much more comprehensive and effective outcome. We look forward to working with the Speaker and the legislature as a whole to alleviate our citizenry from the burdens of crime and laws that continue to persecute the innocent.
Massachusetts Department of Public Health Injury Surveillance System (ISP) : http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/health-stats/injury-suveillance/
Massachusetts Department of Public Health Weapon Related Injury Surveillance System (WRISS) http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/health-stats/injury-suveillance/reports/weapon-related-injury-surveillance-system.html
Bureau of Justice website - NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007: http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=49
GOAL's 2013 Report: Gun Crime Rates Since the Passage of the 1998 Gun Control Act : http://www.goal.org/2013-gun-crime-report.html
Chapter 180's 15 Year Report Card: Massachusetts Gun Laws Receive Failing Grades : http://www.goal.org/newspages/15-year-report-card.html
GOAL's 2012 Report: MA Homicides Doubled Since 1998 : http://www.goal.org/newspages/homicides-doubled-since-1998.html
GOAL's 2009 Report: The 1998 MA Gun Control Act Continues To Be A Public Threat : http://www.goal.org/regulationpages/1998guncontrol.html
GOAL's 2008 Report: "A Decade of Disaster" marking the 10th anniversary of Chapter 180 : http://www.goal.org/newspages/decadeofdisaster.html
Click here to read the full report by the MA Committee to Reduce Gun Violence
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