BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) announces that on Thursday the Senate passed legislation to reduce the impact and prevalence of gun violence in Massachusetts. 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.
During the debate the Senate voted 28-10 to remove a provision that would have given police chiefs the same discretion in approving permits for rifles and shotguns that they have now for handguns. Downing voted with the majority to remove this language from the bill, in response to a clear message received from his constituents.
Jim Wallace, the executive director of GOAL, the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League released a statement that the Senate’s bill was historic, as it “includes provisions for mental health resources, school safety regulations, and tougher criminal laws - all while respecting the Second Amendment civil rights of the people of the 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 United States Attorney General all the information that is required of the system.
The bill makes many 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 and requires them to obtain this information for current employees within 180 days after the effective date of this act.
Under the bill, the Commonwealth Fusion Center within the State Police is required to assist the Offices of the Attorney General and District Attorneys in investigating firearm crimes. The bill also allows the Colonel of the State Police to establish a special unit known as the Criminal Firearms and Trafficking Unit to assist in the investigation and prosecution of firearm crimes.
The bill requires all secondary market gun sales to be conducted over a real-time web portal to be developed under DCJIS. Beginning January 1, 2021, once the web portal is functional, the requirement that a resident submit a FA10 form within 7 days to DCJIS information relative to the sale of a firearm will be eliminated.
It also exempts federally licensed firearm dealers from purchase restrictions on firearms that are not previously owned in the Commonwealth if the firearm is a Curio and Relic.
The bill establishes unsuitability standards that licensing authorities must use in making determinations relative to both Firearms Identification Card and license to carry applications as well as eliminates the 90-day renewal process for both. The bill streamlines the license to carry process by eliminating the classes of a license to carry, formerly known as Class A and Class B, beginning January 1, 2021.
Applicants also must verify that they have not lost any firearms or had any firearms stolen, or have properly reported the loss or theft since the applicant’s last renewal or issuance. Failing to report lost or stolen firearms will result in increased fines.
Moreover, 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. It amends the medical emergency response plans schools are required to develop by requiring consultation with local police, fire and emergency personnel. It also requires school officials to review the response sequence with local police and fire officials at least once per year.
In addition, the bill requires chiefs of police, in consultation with the Superintendent, to assign a school resource officer to provide law enforcement and services to the school district. School districts must also have access to two-way communication devices for communication with police and fire departments during emergencies, also subject to appropriation.
The bill also places an emphasis on expanding mental health awareness and treatment. It requires school districts to provide two hours of suicide awareness and prevention training to licensed school personnel every three years. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is charged with adopting regulations for requiring schools to provide suicide awareness and prevention training by December 3, 2014.
School districts will be required to develop plans to more effectively address the mental health needs of students and faculty, including the potential need for emergency and acute treatment as a result of a tragedy or crisis.
The bill also requires the Department of Public Health to collect, analyze and report on data related to suicides in the Commonwealth, as well as the Board of Registration in Medicine to develop a professional training module on suicide prevention for voluntary participation by physicians.
The bill establishes several new gun-related crimes and enhances penalties, such as:
Establishes the crimes of assault and assault and battery with a firearm and imposes related penalties;
Enhances penalties for assault and battery with attempt to disarm a police officer;
Enhances penalties for the crime of carjacking while armed with a firearm;
Enhances penalties for the crime of home invasion with a firearm and breaking and entering with a firearm;
Enhances penalties for entering under false pretenses with a firearm;
Increases the penalty for someone convicted of carrying a firearm on school premises and makes such an offense a “statutory right of arrest;”
Establishes penalties for unlawfully transporting firearms into the Commonwealth to use such firearms for the commission of criminal activity or to unlawfully distribute;
Establishes the crime of breaking and entering to steal a firearm; and
Establishes a crime of breaking and entering a firearm retailer, wholesaler or manufacturer.
The Senate and House of Representatives will now appoint a Conference Committee to produce a compromise bill for final passage and consideration of the Governor.