A proposal to limit the number of guns a person can buy in Massachusetts is being mulled by the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee today, sparking hope among supporters that the bill may finally come to a vote.
The bill, introduced by Governor Deval Patrick in May 2009, would prevent people from buying more than one gun a month. It is winding its way through committee as the state and the city of Boston grapple with the shooting deaths of two 14-year-old boys in the same month. A 10-year-old girl was shot in the leg over the weekend as she played outside her Roxbury home. The girl is expected to survive.
The shootings “make it more urgent to do something,” said Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s just epidemic really.”
Proponents of the bill say it would make it difficult for gun traffickers to obtain weapons in bulk, then sell them illegally on the streets of Boston. Right now, people licensed to buy guns can buy an unlimited number of weapons. Gun control advocates said that allows for “straw purchases,” in which people who are legally able to buy guns are hired by gun traffickers to purchase weapons.
Almost 2,000 illegal guns were recovered last year in the state, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The agency traced 1,084 of those weapons. Of that amount, about 36 percent originated in Massachusetts dealers and stores licensed to sell guns.
Nancy Robinson, director of Citizens for Safety, a Jamaica Plain-based coalition that fights gun trafficking, said that statistic shows the need to put more restrictions on buying guns in Massachusetts, where opponents of gun control say the laws for purchasing weapons are already strict.
“We’re hoping it will drive some traffickers out of business,” she said. “They can’t turn as high a profit. They have to work that much harder to get that many guns to sell on the street.”
The bill would not affect gun dealers and stores, said Heffernan.
Jim Wallace, executive director of Gun Owners Action League, a Northborough-based organization opposed to the bill, said the proposal unfairly targeted people licensed to buy guns who have done nothing wrong.
“It blames them for crime,” he said. “It’s taking a group of citizens that are following the law and placing the blame at their feet for the actions that are taking place in the city.”
State Senator Cynthia Stone Creem, a Newton Democrat, said she introduced legislation about three years ago that would limit gun purchases. After languishing in the committee, the 17-member group finally is being polled on whether to advance the legislation, which Creem said is cause for optimism.
“Anything we try and do to keep guns out of the hands of gangs and kids, is very important,” she said.
If the majority of the committee finds in favor of the legislation, the bill could then be scheduled for a vote before the House. The polling is expected to conclude today at 4 p.m.
The bill’s provisions also include tougher sanctions on suspects accused of unlawful gun possession or committing felonies with a firearm. The proposal would allow prosecutors to request that such defendants be held without bail pending trial.
The bill would also prohibit anyone from handling a machine gun unless they are licensed to do so. In 2008, an 8-year-old Westfield boy was killed after he accidentally shot himself with an Uzi submachine gun at a gun show.