Today at a State House hearing, Massachusetts residents will have an opportunity to support new gun laws proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick and legislators. Our politicians have led the state and the nation in the passage of comprehensive gun laws and initiatives aimed at keeping our citizens safer from largely preventable gun violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009 Massachusetts had the lowest firearm fatality rate in the nation. But our work is not done.
Guns continue to pour in from neighboring states with lax gun laws such as Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. In fact, Boston Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report that over 65 percent of guns traced to crime in Massachusetts come from out of state.
In the devastating wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, Massachusetts lawmakers have proposed a number of new gun laws. Such laws include improving mental health record keeping, universal background checks for private gun sales, limiting gun purchases to one per month to deter gun trafficking, stiffer penalties for gun crimes, and further limiting high capacity ammunition magazines — the common denominator in all mass shootings.
The equation is simple. States with effective gun laws and lower gun ownership rates have low firearm fatality rates, while states with lax gun laws have the highest per capita gun ownership and gun death rates in the country.
Another state making big news recently on this front is Colorado, which according to the latest numbers available from the CDC, has a firearm death rate of 10.7 per 100,000 residents (MA has a 4.0 rate). Colorado has historically lax gun laws, high gun ownership, and is the home to devastating cases of gun violence: the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and the 2012 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora. Although state lawmakers have traditionally been reluctant to pass gun control measures, earlier this year they approved an expansion of background checks and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines in the hopes of preventing further gun violence.
In their first ever effort to hold recall elections, the National Rifle Association sought to oust five of the lawmakers who voted in favor of the gun measures. Three of those recall efforts did not gather enough petition signatures, but two did, and both senators lost their jobs in the recall vote. It is worth noting that one of the senators was retiring next year anyway and the recall had no impact on control of the Senate. In addition, the election has no bearing on the gun laws that were passed.
This was a symbolic effort by the gun lobby to intimidate lawmakers. The message: If you choose the safety of your constituents over the dangerous policies of the gun lobby, your job will be at risk.
But, as one of those lawmakers, Senate President John Morse stated, “We made Colorado safer from gun violence. If it cost me my political career, that’s a small price to pay.”
Perhaps Mr. Morse should move to Massachusetts, where elected officials have been rewarded for enacting rational gun laws and putting safety concerns over the special interests of the gun industry.