Governor Deval L. Patrick
Testimony for Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security
House Bill No. 47
An Act To Strengthen and Enhance Firearms Laws in the Commonwealth
September 13, 2013

Chairman Timilty, Chairman Naughton, and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for taking up the critical issue of gun safety and for permitting me the opportunity to testify.   We are here today because we share a commitment to making our communities safer; every community, for every resident.  Safe communities enable our residents to make better lives for themselves, our children to get a decent education, our businesses to grow and create jobs, our citizens to help build their community and to be a part of the larger Commonwealth.  Safe communities are what it takes to create opportunity – and opportunity is what America is about.

 I want to acknowledge the work that together we have done in this vein already.  Even in the depths of the global recession, we supported summer jobs programs and longer school days.  We invested in violence prevention and strengthened laws for the most heinous crimes.  That is a good thing.

Like you, I believe that, while government cannot make us safe on its own, government must do all it can – and we have done a lot.

But there is certainly more we can do, and therefore should do to make the consequences of illegal gun ownership and illegal gun use more significant.  This is not about taking away anybody’s rights; this is about affirming everybody’s right to live in safety and without fear of violence.

I filed a bill in January that attempted to close gaps in our laws, bring us into compliance with national background check standards, and make it harder for so-called straw purchases of firearms to occur.  This committee has spent a great deal of time listening to a whole variety of ideas on how to make our communities safer and has given serious thought about what makes the most sense for Massachusetts.  My hope isn’t that we will pass one particular bill or another but instead that we will work together to support wise and practical responses to the challenges we face.

First, we must bring Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check Systems Improvement Act of 2007.  This federal law, passed in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy, requires courts to transmit all required mental health adjudications and orders to the state’s criminal justice information system so that it can be shared with the Justice Department and states around the country.  This information will only be used for the purpose of firearms licensing and will ensure that Massachusetts is aware of a resident’s full history when it comes time to license them for a firearm. 

Second, we should update our criminal laws to reflect the seriousness of crimes committed with a firearm and of illegal gun ownership and use.  I have proposed increasing the penalties for third and fourth offenses of illegal possession and carrying of shotguns, rifles, and machine guns and increasing the maximum punishment for a second offense.  I have also proposed to create new crimes with stronger penalties for people who commit assault or assault and battery with a firearm, or who commit other violent misdemeanors while in possession of a firearm or weapon.  These tools will allow us to hold accountable those who use guns to terrorize their neighborhoods and neighbors.

Finally, we can deter straw purchases by limiting gun buyers to one firearm purchase per month.  We can prohibit furnishing a machine gun to any person under 21.  And we can require private gun sales to happen out in the open at the business of an authorized dealer.  These steps will slow the stream of illegal guns into cities and towns, without in any way encroaching upon the rights of legal gun owners.  

As I said, government cannot solve every problem.  But there are certainly some things we can do together to make our communities safer and stronger.  This committee has heard a lot of good ideas and has many of its own.  Let’s find the areas where we agree, and work together.  No family and no community should suffer the losses due to gun violence that we’ve seen and then see us fail to act.

Thank you.