Tuesday 20 February 2018

Massachusetts latest state to issue new gun laws after Newtown massacre

Scott Malone

MASSACHUSETTS Governor Deval Patrick introduced a new series of gun laws to tighten rules on sales of weapons and ammunition, in the wake of last month's deadly school shooting in neighboring Connecticut.

Patrick made the announcement a day after New York state adopted one of the toughest gun-control laws in the United States and shortly before President Barack Obama proposed a new national assault-weapons ban and strengthened background checks on prospective gun buyers.

"In the wake of too many tragedies, I have filed legislation to tackle the problem of gun violence and illegal firearm possession," Patrick, a Democrat, said in a statement.

He also proposed an increase in funding to the state's mental health programs aimed at reducing violence, in the wake of last month's mass shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut, school that left 28 people dead including 20 first graders.

The proposed Massachusetts legislation would require gun buyers to undergo background checks even when they made purchases at gun shows, limit buyers to purchasing one gun per month and reduce access to high-powered ammunition.

It would also require state courts to share relevant mental health records with state and criminal databases used to conduct background checks on potential gun buyers.

Patrick's proposal did not discuss outlawing additional types of weapons or tightening the rules on high-capacity clips, unlike the law passed in New York, which bans large ammunition clips and strengthens the ban on assault weapons.

The Newtown killings prompted some Americans, including officials in California, Maryland and Delaware, to call for tighter restrictions on weapons, a move that the National Rifle Association and its supporters have strongly opposed.

But some state officials - including Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut - said they are limited in their ability to tackle the problem of gun violence on their own.

"States can't go it alone. We need leadership at the federal level," Malloy said in his official Twitter feed.

Governors may have an easier time requiring their states to keep better mental health records than closing the gun-show loophole, said David King, a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

"That is probably something that the federal government has to weigh in on," he said. Obama on Wednesday said he would call on Congress to close the gun-show loopholes.

Before the December attack only California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Maryland, plus the District of Columbia, had some form of ban on assault weapons.

The attack, and others like it, also exposed holes in the U.S. mental health system.

Patrick said that his budget proposal will include $5 million in new funding for state mental health programs aimed at training school staff on how to recognize symptoms of mental illness in students and to better train police officers to handle people with mental illness in crisis situations.

Even in liberal Massachusetts, where Democrats control the upper and lower chambers of the state house, the proposals are likely to face an uphill political battle, observers said.

"Gun control is just too controversial to fly through any legislature, no matter how liberal it is," said Tufts University political science professor Jeffrey Berry.


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