New federal and state gun laws in the works
Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, looks at a semi-automatic rifle during a joint legislative informational hearing over gun control at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)
A military shoulder-fired rocket launcher, center, stands on end Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in Trenton, N.J., surrounded by a display of 2,600 guns, including 700 that were illegal, that were turned in last Friday and Saturday during a gun buyback program in the state's capital. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
New federal and state gun control measures are being proposed in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy and other recent mass shootings.
At the national level, President Barack Obama has proposed new gun laws that would require Congressional approval, and also ordered executive actions on gun-control.
Proposals that require Congress’ approval include a federal ban on military-style assault weapons, a 10-round limit on ammunition clips and magazines, the outlawing of possession and transfer of armor-piercing ammunition, appointment of a full-time director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and stricter penalties for those who help criminals get guns.
One part of the bill would require background checks for private and gun show firearms sales across the country. An estimated 40 percent of gun sales take place through private dealers, according to The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, meaning nearly half of the legal gun sales in the country are done without an up-to-date background check.
One of the president’s executive actions asks the ATF to publish a guide on background checks for private gun dealers.
Many of the executive actions center on the federal firearms background check system. One would require federal agencies to contribute relevant data to federal firearms background check databases. Another would adjust health information regulations so they no longer keep states from sharing certain information about those who should not have guns. He also seeks to improve incentives offered to states to share information with the background check system. The president also wants to make it clear to health professionals that there is no federal law prohibiting them from reporting individuals who make violent threats.
Obama will ask the attorney general to review categories of people prohibited from owning guns, to find and fix loopholes. He will also have the AG issue a report on the availability and effective use of new gun safety technologies, and the president will encourage the private sector to continue to develop such technology.
The president will have the standards for gun locks and safes reviewed, and launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign. He will also require federal law enforcement agencies to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations. The new law would also require background checks before seized guns may be returned to owners.
The president plans to give incentives to schools that bring in school resource police officers, and will provide school officials, first responders, and law enforcement with training for active shooter situations. He will also have model emergency response plans developed for schools and other institutions, and encourage schools to come up with their own plans for school shooting response.
Obama also wants to address several mental health issues, to try to stop gun violence before it happens. He plans to release a letter clarifying the scope of mental health services Medicare must offer, and make sure other health plans offer mental health treatment as well. He also plans to start a national dialogue on mental health, led by Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
The president will also have the Centers for Disease Control conduct research on the cause and prevention of gun violence.
Gov. Deval Patrick has filed legislation to close loopholes and tighten gun control in the state.
One measure would allow each person to purchase a maximum one firearm per month. Another would require purchasers at gun shows to undergo a background check on the spot before buying a gun.
Now, background checks are conducted at the time of a firearms purchase from a dealer, and when issuing gun licenses required to buy firearms in the state. But at gun shows, only a current firearms identification card or license to carry is needed to buy a gun, rifle, or ammunition.
The legislation would also require private gun sales to be done at a licensed dealer’s shop, so background checks can be conducted.
Gun dealers in Massachusetts have to run buyers through two databases, the Massachusetts Instant Record Check System, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, when selling a firearm.
The proposals also include a requirement for Massachusetts courts to send relevant mental health information to the state Criminal Justice Information System, which would forward it to the federal database.
Patrick’s legislation also sets aside $5 million for Department of Mental Health programs, which includes training for educators to notice signs of mental illness in students. Those funds would also be used to create mobile crisis intervention teams, to provide specialized mental health treatment to prevent violence.
The bill would also create new criminal firearms offenses. It would set up graduated punishments for having different types of weapons on school property, and allow police to perform arrests on school grounds without warrants to keep dangerous situations from escalating. It also creates new offenses for assault and battery with a firearm, assault by firearm, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and committing a violent misdemeanor with a firearm in possession.
Currently, firearms fall under the category of “dangerous weapons,” which also includes less lethal weapons like a “shod foot.”
Minimum penalties for third and fourth offenses of illegal possession or carrying of firearms would be increased, as would the maximum penalty for a second offense.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.