Editorial: Gun law revision

It’s a tightrope act, threading the line between abridging the Constitutional rights of gun owners while tightening regulations and closing loopholes in the Massachusetts’ firearms laws.

But it can be done.

The Second Amendment, as currently interpreted by the courts, gives Americans the right to own guns — but does not prohibit placing common- sense limits on that ownership.

New legislation proposed by state House leaders appears to successfully walk that line — although, as usual, the devil will be in the details.

The bill includes disparate measures, from allowing local police chiefs to deny firearms licenses based on suitability standards to requiring background checks for all private gun sales — including those at gun shows — and joining the national instant criminal background database, which includes mental health information.

The measure follows the recommendations of a task force established by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre in 2012.

“This is not a kneejerk reaction to Newtown,” said John Rosenthal, head of the Massachusetts-based group Stop Handgun Violence. “It’s thoughtful, it’s smart and it drills down into how the mentally ill, and how kids and how criminals are accessing guns, and what can be done without banning guns.”

DeLeo says he feels the state is being forced to act on these matters because Congress has failed to. “In the face of continued absence of federal leadership, leaders in state government have to step up wherever we can.”

Supporters of the bill say it includes important concessions to gun owners, including one that seeks to relieve a frustrating backlog of license renewal applications. “Lawful gun owners in (Massachusetts) aren’t the problem. Hopefully they are part of the solution,” said Rep. Harold Naughton, D-Clinton.

The bill would also increase penalties for failing to report lost or stolen firearms, for improperly storing guns and for carrying a gun on school grounds.

DeLeo told reporters he thinks a bill on this matter will pass by the July 31 conclusion of the legislative session, although it will certainly be amended during the legislative process.

No mere law can be a panacea for the plague of violence that is afflicting the nation — there is no magic solution. The country needs a measured, carefully considered set of firearms laws that apply across state borders, better treatment and evaluation for the mentally ill, better school and public building security and a whole host of other changes that increase our safety.

This bill appears to address at least one small set of loopholes, and deserves our support.

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