By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- House Speaker Robert DeLeo's intention is to put a redrafted gun violence prevention bill before the House on Wednesday, according to a member of the speaker's leadership team.
Rep. Paul Donato told the News Service after a Democratic leadership meeting in DeLeo's office on Monday that the gun bill is expected emerge from the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.
Donato said he had not yet seen the bill, so he could not comment on its substance or how Democrats might intend to change the bill from the version first DeLeo outlined in May. That bill (H 4121) squeaked through the Public Safety Committee with a favorable recommendation on a 7-6 vote.
The original bill would require that private gun sales take place at a licensed gun dealer, give police chiefs more discretion licensing people for a rifle, and require the state to fully comply with a federal background database for gun purchases.
The bill was drafted following input from a task force appointed by DeLeo after the 2012 shootings inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Lawmakers in January 2013 joined together to call for passage of gun legislation but Beacon Hill leaders have been slow to rally around a single bill and with just 24 days remaining for controversial bills to advance this session, gun legislation has yet to be debated in either branch.
Since DeLeo detailed his proposal, Second Amendment activists have mounted a campaign to defeat it, arguing it goes too far to restrict the rights of lawful gun owners without addressing the roots causes of street violence.
The provision that has drawn the most concern from the Gun Owners Action League gives police chiefs the ability to deny a firearm ID card for a rifle or shotgun based on a "suitability" standard, which GOAL Executive Director Jim Wallace has warned could be abused by police chiefs.
DeLeo told the News Service in June after his bill cleared the Public Safety Committee that his proposal could require "some tweaking," suggesting gun transfers and suitability for a firearm license as areas that may need to be revisited.
"It's a piece of gun legislation so if anyone thinks that's going to be an easy thing to just pass, I knew this wasn't going to be an easy thing to do when it came out," DeLeo said.
Wallace has urged House lawmakers to include a section in the bill to create a new division within the State Police that specializes in criminal firearms and gun trafficking.
"From what I hear, they've come a long way," Wallace told the News Service on Monday, as he awaited word on the prospects for the bill at the State House. "There are a few different versions and some sticking points, I think, but if they can turn this into a crime bill that we could get behind that would be great."
Stop Handgun Violence on Monday described its full support for DeLeo's bill and applauded his "courageous leadership." In a statement, the group's founder John Rosenthal said, "The US Congress may be incapable of responsibly addressing the national epidemic of gun violence, but that should not stop us here. To the contrary, given the NRA's chokehold on Congress, it is that much more important that we act at the state level and encourage other states to adopt Massachusetts' effective gun laws."
An electronic billboard on the Mass. Turnpike that uses historical averages (83 gun deaths per day) to tally US gun deaths since the Newtown shootings will hit 50,000 on Tuesday, according to Stop Handgun Violence, or more than ten times the number of Americans killed in the Iraq War over ten years.
Michael Norton contributed reporting.