BOSTON, May 11, 2013—Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley today delivered the following remarks on legislation he drafted to close loopholes in Massachusetts gun laws and address the secondary market for firearms. He was joined by Rayauna M., Joselyn C., and Chris R., three 6th grade students at the Harbor School in Dorchester who wrote to him about youth violence last week, and by Rep. Russell Holmes, John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence, and Emmett Folgert of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative:
“A few days ago, I received letters from Rayauna, Joselyn, and Chris here, students at the Harbor School, right across the street. They were concerned about violence in their city, and especially the effect of gun violence on kids and teens.
“I told the kids I would love to talk with them, and I invited three partners I have worked with and who have spent their careers trying to keep our kids safe to meet them as well – Representative Russell Holmes, Emmett Folgert of the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, and John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence.
“In any given year in Boston, more people are killed by illegal firearms than every other weapon combined. Over the past 11 years, 27 children age 16 or under have been killed in Boston by firearms in the wrong hands. That’s a classroom of children lost to gun violence every decade.
“Any sensible anti-violence strategy has to address the problem of illegal firearms and the people who use them. At the Harbor School earlier this year, for example, Suffolk prosecutors joined representatives from Boston Police, Boston Centers for Youth and Families, and the Suffolk Sheriff’s Department to walk 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students through a successful three-month curriculum that diverts at-risk youth from violent behavior. Each year, my office donates tens of thousands of dollars in cash awards to local non-profits that keep kids and teens away from guns, drugs, and violence. And we’ve embraced a prosecution strategy that targets violent impact players who disrupt their communities and put kids like these in harm’s way.
“But no community-based support program can compete with the easy access that violent offenders have to illegal firearms. This is common sense. But as we saw in Washington last month, a too-powerful gun lobby, in league with enablers like Mitch McConnell, prevented even the most watered down gun reform from passing the US Senate.
“As a result, we have to redouble our own efforts in Massachusetts. I’ve drafted An Act to Combat Gun Violence, which tackles the secondary gun market and makes 26 changes to Massachusetts law to close loopholes and address flaws we see in court and on the street every day.
“This bill isn’t flashy, but it focuses laser-like on handgun violence. It makes critically important changes to our laws based on our own experience in our courtrooms and on our streets. I want to thank Rep. David Linsky and Governor Patrick for the excellent gun legislation they’ve put forward this year as well. Each of these bills has its own area of emphasis and should be viewed as complimentary.
“This legislation accomplishes many things that we are certain will help prevent guns from winding up in the wrong hands. For example, when the Legislature increased the penalty for illegally carrying firearms in 2006, it neglected to increase the penalty for illegally selling them. And when it forbade felons from becoming licensed firearm dealers, it neglected to bar dealers from hiring felons. This bill would close both of those loopholes, providing a 2½-year minimum for unlawfully selling a firearm and forbidding felons from employment or volunteer positions with a licensed firearms dealer.
“Massachusetts provides enhanced penalties for unlawful possession of a firearm as a second or subsequent offense, but that statute doesn’t cover large capacity weapons, loaded weapons on the street, or unlicensed firearms in a home or place of business. This bill provides uniform coverage for all second or subsequent firearm possession offenses, and it makes clear that out-of-state gun convictions count as predicate offenses under those statutes.
“Massachusetts law currently imposes a minimum year and a half behind bars for carrying an illegal firearm on a public way. However, the same defendant, with the same record, possessing the same illegal firearm, loaded with the same ammunition, can get no time at all if that illegal weapon is recovered inside his home or place of business. This loophole affects as many 25% of our gun convictions, oftentimes among the most serious cases – the ones involving search warrants based on long-term drug and gang investigations. This bill will close the loophole and provide the same penalty for the same gun no matter where it’s recovered.
“It would require handgun firing pins to be microstamped with a unique identification number that’s then transferred to shell casings, making it easier for investigators to identify the firearms used in fatal and nonfatal shootings. The technology exists, it’s getting better every day, it’s required under a 2007 law currently on hold in California, and it’s being looked at in six other states. It was the subject of a 2008 federal bill advanced in the Senate by Ted Kennedy. There are few cases tougher to crack than street shootings with no witnesses, and this change would have an immediate effect on our ability to solve them.
“This bill would also gun owners to carry insurance to cover accidental or unlawful injuries inflicted with their firearms. This would not extend to lawful cases of self-defense, but it would apply to the hundreds of injuries and fatalities each year that are the direct result of negligent or improper use of firearms.
“Despite what critics of this proposal say, I think most people would agree that if we require a license, registration and insurance to drive a car, why shouldn’t we expect the same of a gun? We all recognize gun owners Second Amendment rights, but with every right comes responsibilities, and keeping guns out of the wrong hands is a responsibility we all need to embrace.
“The bill also contains a number of provisions aimed at shutting down the secondary gun market. These are the guns that are lost or stolen or purchased through straws that find their way onto our streets. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives reports that 25% of its gun trafficking investigations involve stolen guns.
“Our legislation makes it easier for rightful owners to lost or stolen guns to their local police department instead of state licensing authorities. And to those who argue that we don’t need new laws, but should simply enforce the ones that exist, this law already exists. Unfortunately, it lacks an enforcement mechanism. This bill puts teeth in the existing law by increasing the penalty from only a $200 fine to allow up to 2 ½ years behind bars for anyone who knowingly fails to report their firearms lost or stolen.
“And it would address one of the leading national concerns after a wave of mass shootings, that of mental illness and firearms possession. This bill would require the courts and Department of Mental Health to share information on involuntary commitments, findings that defendants lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs, and domestic violence convictions to firearm licensing authorities.
“In March, the Journal of the American Medical Association released the results of a four-year study correlating gun legislation and firearm-related fatalities. Their findings were unequivocal – a higher number of state firearm laws are associated with a lower rate of firearm fatalities, overall and for suicides and homicides. The good news is that Massachusetts was at the top of the list for high legislative strength and low rates of gun fatalities. But the bad news is that homicide remains the single leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 24 in Massachusetts. We can do better – and for Rayauna, Joselyn, and Chris, we will. Thank you.”