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Proposed Gun Law Targets Mental Health, Suitability of Gun Owners

Thursday, May 29, 2014

 

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, a piece of legislation has been created in Massachusetts that if signed into law, would tighten Massachusetts gun laws, with a focus on mental health and school safety, among other things.

Announced on Tuesday as a “comprehensive gun violence legislation,” the proposed bill – which was unveiled by House Speaker Robert DeLeo – would also allow for police chiefs to deny access to licenses for rifles and shotguns based on suitability standards and would create additional background checks for private gun sales.

 “It is not enough to be one of the safest states in the nation, we must enact laws that make our communities the safest in the world,” Speaker DeLeo said. “I believe this legislation give us the tools and foundation to reach that goal. I thank Dean McDevitt, the task force and my colleagues in the House for their commitment to creating such a thoughtful, deliberate and comprehensive bill.”

The legislation follows suggestions made by a task force that was created by DeLeo after the Sandy Hook shootings took place in December of 2012.

Criminal Violence vs. Gun Violence

While many have shown support o the legislation, Chris Pinto, the treasurer of the Worcester Republican City Committee, finds nothing of merit in the proposed bill. Labeled as a bill to reduce gun violence, Pinto sees the legislation as a way for those involved to receive more votes in upcoming election cycles.

“The bill is titled as a bill to reduce gun violence,” said Pinto. “Violence is not committed by guns, it is committed by criminals. Nowhere in this bill do they close the loophole in the Bartley-Fox Act. If you care about gun violence you should close the loopholes in the gun crime laws. The speaker really doesn't care about gun crimes; he is doing this to get votes. The proposed bill will do nothing to reduce crime.”

Gun violence and crimes has become a popular topic within media coverage nationwide as of late, especially with the recent case of Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old that killed seven people including himself in California last Friday.

Crimes of this nature typically get people to want to increase gun regulations; after all Rodger did use a gun to kill. With that being said, Pinto believes that people need to stop focusing so much on the gun violence aspect of the crime because ultimately, cases such as these are criminal cases; the weapon which they use to kill is irrelevant.

“One of the things that is being glossed over in the press with the California case is that the killer had killed three people with a knife, three with a gun, and then injured a bunch of people with his car,” said Pinto. “The violence was not perpetrated by the gun or the knife or car; it is a case of criminal violence, not gun violence.”

Looking at Mental Health

Mental health and school safety are two areas that this proposed bill takes a deep and hard look at. Again, looking back at cases such as Rodger’s where it was acknowledged that he had previous health issues, and the case of Gregory Hamalian, a local case where he made threats to shoot up a movie theater, mental health and gun legislation and mental health legislation are beginning to wind up in the same debate circles.

Sheila Decter, the Director of Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, says that the attempts to work on various mental health and student safety issues within the legislation are well applauded. Increasing education in schools about suicide awareness and other key areas of focus within the proposed bill are all great ways to monitor students to prevent potential violence cases.

Decter acknowledges that figuring out what students have potentially violent tendencies is a slippery slope, one that becomes challenging to predict. While certain personality traits may throw red flags, depleted statewide resources and patient confidentiality all create problems.

“One issue with mental health is that if there was an attempt to get the councilors that help people to report everyone who was  angry or suicidal, then we would have too many people considered a risk and we would have start to see people turning away from councilors for help,” said Decter.

A Disappointment for Gun Owners

Group consensus among gun advocates is that the proposed legislation does little to cut down on gun violence and actually presents more issues for lawful gun owners.

“My reaction is that this legislation is a great disappointment,” said Jim Wallace, the Executive Director of GOAL. “We were hoping for something that we could support from the start, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It is very unfortunate; I feel like they really missed the mark here.”

While combing through the bill, Wallace had a hard time finding anything that he could truly support. In terms of mental health issues, Wallace feels like the legislation “missed the mark.” While things like suicide awareness training for teachers and firearms identification cards having suicide hotline numbers on them are appreciated, they really fell short of expectations.

Wallace is in support of an increase in student resource officers, which according to him, wasn’t initially supported by those crafting the bill. While flip-flopping may be a concern, Wallace is happy to see something that he can work with on the bill.

“The interesting thing about the student resource officers idea is that it was something that was originally pitched by the NRA in response to the Sandy Hook shooting,” said Wallace. “At the time, this was something that was scoffed at, now all of a sudden it is being pitched as part of a piece of legislation.”

 

Related Slideshow: The Influence of Gun Money in New England States

New Data from The Sunlight Foundation shows state-by-state breakdowns for donations to groups on both sides of the gun debate. The money went toward candidates, political parties, and political action committees (PACs), but doesn't include donations to independent or so-called “super PACs”.

 

See how much money went to candidates in each of the New England States in the slides below.

Prev Next

Rhode Island

State Candidates

Control $: 0

Rights $: 229650

Federal Candidates

Control $: 19557

Rights $: 5612

Prev Next

Massachusetts

State Candidates

Control $: 2850

Rights $: 20538

Federal Candidates

Control $: 54058

Rights $: 104579

Prev Next

Maine

State Candidates

Control $: 8325

Rights $: 51700

Federal Candidates

Control $: 27318

Rights $: 142505

Prev Next

Connecticut

State Candidates

Control $: 4076

Rights $: 56200

Federal Candidates

Control $: 43666

Rights $: 121596

Prev Next

Vermont

State Candidates

Control $: 0

Rights $: 40330

Federal Candidates

Control $: 4500

Rights $: 7550

Prev Next

New Hampsire

State Candidates

Control $: 1500

Rights $: 22475

Federal Candidates

Control $: 34337

Rights $: 293560

 
 

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