January 2nd marks the beginning of the new two-year legislative session. On Day 1 of the new session, returning and new members of the Massachusetts Legislature will be sworn into office. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray are expected to be re-elected as leaders of their respective branches.
The Governor, House, and Senate will get down to business right away, with Governor Patrick filing his budget by January 23rd. A little background — under the Massachusetts Constitution, the Governor must propose a budget for the next fiscal year within 3 weeks of the Legislature convening. This is usually the 4th Wednesday of January, and this year that deadline falls on Wednesday, January 23rd.
In the first few weeks of January, thousands of bills will be filed, and we are expecting proposals calling for tougher gun control laws to be among them. While Massachusetts is considered to have some of the toughest gun control laws in the country, State Representative David Linsky has already announced a plan to bring his colleagues together for a January 3rd strategy meeting on ways to reduce gun violence. Representative Linsky has vowed to review in great detail the Massachusetts gun laws in order to prevent ownership of the kinds of guns used in this month’s school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Calls for stronger gun laws in Massachusetts have been heard before, but in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the focus on these issues has intensified. Massachusetts does have an assault weapons ban, and in recent legislative sessions, Governor Patrick has filed a series of bills aimed at closing loopholes identified in that law.
Governor Patrick has filed other firearm bills including a proposal to limit the purchase of guns to one per month, to enroll the state in the National Mental Health registry for the use in firearm background checks, and to require registration at gun shows. Governor Patrick also filed legislation that would create three new gun crimes: assault and battery with a firearm, assault with a firearm, and a “felon in possession law.”
There have been other legislative gun control efforts as well. Representative Linsky has previously filed a bill aimed at improving the ballistic database through microstamping ammunition. The BBA has not reviewed Representative Linsky’s particular bill, but in 2010 the BBA co-sponsored an American Bar Association Gun Violence Microstamping Resolution which urged the enactment of laws requiring that all newly-manufactured semi-automatic pistols be fitted with microstamping technology. This technology enables law enforcement to identify semiautomatic pistols directly through cartridge casings found at crime scenes without needing to recover the gun itself.
No doubt this is a contentious issue. It will require engaging various groups to strike a balance between lawful possession of guns for sport and hunting and possession of guns that are truly manufactured for military purposes.
The BBA has not taken a comprehensive look at this issue in some time and our history and involvement in the area of gun control has varied. We have acted as a convener to promote discussions, worked directly with community groups to examine the causes of violent crimes, and supported legislation at the state and federal level. Now is the time to take another look at ways to strengthen Massachusetts’ firearm laws and to put in place commonsense gun control measures.