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State suggests 44 measures to reduce gun violence

New state gun law recommendations are less restrictive than those proposed regionally in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

The state Committee to Reduce Firearm Violence has reviewed gun control measures proposed by the governor and state lawmakers, and includes some of them in the 44 recommendations it recently issued. The group also spoke with police, mental health advocates, gun owner groups as well as gun-control advocates, firearms retailers and others in formulating its report.

Committee recommendations range from requiring gun dealers and private sellers to use federal standard background checks for gun purchases, making live-fire training mandatory for first-time gun licensees and increasing penalties for those who don’t report stolen guns, to allowing police chiefs to deem people “unsuitable” for firearms identification cards, eliminating Class B “open carry” handgun licenses, and including certain mental health records in background check systems.

The committee wants private firearms sales to occur at licensed gun dealers’ shops, so that the National Instant Criminal Background Check can be performed at the time of purchase. This could stop people who have a gun permit, but have become ineligible since its issue, from purchasing guns.

Adding a live-fire component to gun safety classes required of first-time licensees was also among the committee’s recommendations.

Some of the recommendations would change the way licenses and permits are issued.

Currently, Class A and B licenses to carry firearms, as well as FID cards, are issued by applicants’ local police departments. Issuers may deny class A and B licenses based on “suitability.” If an applicant has a history of arrests that did not result in conviction, or police believe the person should not be able to own a handgun for other reasons, they may deny the license.

Police do not have discretion to deny an FID card, which allows holders to own shotguns and rifles. Unless an applicant meets specific disqualifying criteria, the FID must be issued — there is no gray area.

The committee thinks police chiefs should be able to deny FID cards based on their knowledge of the applicant, not just their state or federal eligibility.

The committee would also like to do away with Class B licenses, which allow holders to carry a loaded handgun on their person in plain view, and own any state-approved non-large-capacity firearms.

Class A licenses allow holders to carry loaded, concealed handguns, and own all state-approved firearms. However, those issuing Class A licenses may deny the concealed carry and large-capacity provisions of the license at their own discretion, or decide to place stipulations like “for employment only” on carrying licenses.

The committee said that far fewer people apply for Class B licenses than Class A, and the stipulations that can be placed on Class A licenses make the lesser license somewhat redundant.

The report suggested that gun retailers be required to perform background checks on their employees.

One proposal is almost certain not to draw criticism from gun rights advocates. It would keep licenses from expiring while renewals are processed.

When gun licenses and FIDs expire, holders have a 90-day grace period to get a renewal. The committee said this often isn’t enough time for a new permit to be issued, even if the process is started in advance. It recommends that, as long as someone re-applies before their license expires, the grace period lasts until the new license is granted or denied.

Gun safes

Safe storage of firearms has been another subject of debate. Current state laws require guns to be stored unloaded, secured with a trigger lock or in a gun safe.

State legislators last year proposed that all gun owners be required to store their weapons in a gun safe, but the committee advised against this. It did, however, recommend incentives for those who own such safes, possibly in the form of a tax credit.

While some of the committee’s proposals deal with guns directly, others are aimed at reducing risk factors.

The report recommends that extra money be allocated for mental health and substance abuse services, as well as school resources, programs for youth offenders and delinquent or at-risk children, and further research.

The committee recommends that more mental health records be submitted to the national background check system.

Some of the more extreme proposals early last year included a monthly limit of one firearm purchase per person, a 25 percent tax on guns and ammunition, mandatory liability insurance for gun owners, and requiring that assault weapons and large-capacity firearms be stored at shooting ranges rather than in people’s homes.

None of these were among the recommendations of the committee.

Large-capacity firearms, defined in Massachusetts as those with detachable magazines accepting more than 10 rounds (or more than 5 rounds for shotguns) have been a point of contention in the gun control debate at state and federal levels.

A 10-year federal assault weapon ban expired in 2004, although Massachusetts adopted its own similar ban. Under the ban, only large-capacity firearms manufactured before the federal ban took effect in 1994 are legal for civilians.

Those regulations should stay the same, according to the committee.

— DAVID RAINVILLE

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