By Senator Michael O. Moore
When I was first sworn into office ten years ago, I knew that there would be times that I’d take a position that wasn’t viewed favorably by the entire electorate. And yet, while I knew that there would be occasions where folks wouldn’t always agree with me, I never thought we’d reach a point where residents with opposing views would refuse to acknowledge facts, or to work together toward a positive outcome for our neighbors and those across the Commonwealth. I regret to share that we’ve reached that point.
Gone are the days where someone with an opposing viewpoint would sit across the table, listen to the perspective of the other side and weigh their position with the facts to reach a compromise. Our political discourse has become so polarized that many conversations dissolve into accusations, insults and degrading retorts via social media. Misinformation continues to serve as a convenient tool to tell half-truths and to spread inaccuracies.
I’ve always been taught to be honest, and to work hard to better the lives of others around me. That’s why I recently submitted a letter to two national organizations calling for changes to firearms laws at the federal level. I think we can agree that the loss of American lives to gun violence, and the increasing number of mass shootings, is an alarming trend that merits attention from public safety officials and lawmakers.
I’ve been hearing from a number of folks who oppose my decision to submit these letters. To be frank, the tone of many opposing messages is emblematic of the overall tension between pro-Second Amendment advocates and gun control supporters. I have, and will continue to be an ally of law-abiding gun owners. However, I support additional efforts at the national level to close existing loopholes that jeopardize public safety.
There is no single solution to tackling the issue of gun violence in our country, which requires a multilateral approach and a uniform set of standards rather than a patchwork of state-specific laws. Focusing squarely on the mental health aspect of gun violence does not confront the reality about the need for public policy changes to prevent the sale, dissemination and acquisition of firearms by individuals who want to inflict harm.
The facts are this. According to 2017 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Massachusetts ranks second, at 3.7 percent, when it comes to firearm mortality rates. Hawaii possesses the lowest overall rate, at 2.5 percent, and the highest rates are in the states of Montana, Alabama and Alaska—each having rates of over 22 percent. Clearly, states like Massachusetts—with many commonsense firearms laws—are doing something right to reduce incidence of gun violence.
Take, for example, the Commonwealth’s ban on assault weapons. In 1998, Massachusetts took action to enact legislation modeled after a then-existing federal assault weapons ban. The law, codified as M.G.L. ch. 140, §§ 121, 131M, makes it a crime to sell, transfer, or possess semiautomatic assault weapons, copies or duplicates of those weapons, and large capacity magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. The law has been upheld in a number of court cases including, most recently, the 2019 appellate court decision in Worman v. Healey, which concluded that our Constitutional rights are not violated by this law.
Admittedly, the vast majority of deaths caused by firearms are not due to assault weapons. I understand these types of firearms are certainly not an exclusive solution to reducing gun violence, however, it can help curb mass casualty situations. Why wouldn’t we want to renew a national ban on assault weapons? Data provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirms that active shooter incidents have become more common in United States in recent years. Limiting access to assault weapons would seem appropriate to help prevent gunmen from inflicting the most deadly harm possible in a short period. Recently, the shooter in Dayton claimed the lives of nine people within 30 seconds and both the Dayton and El Paso shooters used military grade assault weapons acquired legally in both states.
Here in Massachusetts, we’ve also taken action to help address the mental health aspect of this issue by preventing those who may harm themselves (including suicide – a leading cause of gun violence) or others from obtaining or possessing a firearm. In addition to licensing requirements, the Commonwealth’s “Red Flag” law, which passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support, is narrowly tailored to permit only a relative or a person with close ties to a legal gun owner to petition a court for up to a one-year firearm license suspension if they pose an immediate danger to themselves or others. The law creates a consistent, statewide procedure in a court of law. It also enhances the due process standards by requiring a prompt hearing for the gun owner, and creates a penalty, including jail time, for anyone who files a false report. Why wouldn’t we want national action to prevent those who may cause harm from possessing a firearm?
So, you ask, what are we doing to help reduce illegal gun ownership? I think providing law enforcement with the tools they need to pursue criminals is a starting place. That’s why I’ve filed legislation that aims to provide the Commonwealth with the tools to investigate such crimes by striking from the wiretap law the current limitation which precludes a court from issuing a wiretap warrant unless the offense under investigation is being committed “in connection with organized crime. I’ve also filed legislation aimed at curbing bias incidents and hate crimes in public schools across the Commonwealth.
While my correspondence is unlikely to change the minds of those with stronger positions on this issue, it is my hope that this information will help illuminate why I find it important for the federal government to pursue legislative changes that have proven to be effective here in Massachusetts. The universal application of certain firearms laws in our country will address existing inconsistencies with state laws, and help to ensure our laws are not circumvented.
The bottom line is that I will continue to advocate for policies that are proven to save lives, and that do not infringe on our Second Amendment rights.
State Sen. Michael O. Moore, D-Millbury, represents the Second Worcester District and is the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.