By Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Gov. Deval Patrick plans Wednesday morning to sign omnibus legislation aimed at reducing gun violence in Massachusetts.
An invitation being circulated Monday pointed to a 10 a.m. bill-signing ceremony at the Grand Staircase on the second floor of the State House. A Patrick aide confirmed the bill will be signed at that time.
Lawmakers in late July agreed on final details of the bill (H 4376), which received support from both gun control advocacy groups and the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League. The National Rifle Association opposed the bill prior to its passage, telling lawmakers "it isn't difficult to imagine" ways for government officials to abuse discretionary licensing powers granted under the legislation.
The bill lays out a "suitability" process for police to petition the courts to deny a firearm identification card needed to use a shotgun or rifle, authorizes licensed gun dealers to access criminal offender record information, and increases the fine for failure to report a lost or stolen firearm. The bill also establishes penalties for gun dealers who fail to report a lost or stolen weapon.
Patrick has been clearing his desk of the thicket of bills sent to him by the Legislature in late July, when formal sessions ended for 2014. On Friday, Patrick signed legislation aimed at combating domestic violence (S 2334) and governing retainage payments on certain private construction projects (S 2271).
The gun bill requires the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services to create an online portal for private sales, a proposal that bill supporters say "will ensure that secondary sales are subject to proper monitoring and information sharing without placing an additional burden on gun owners."
The bill also requires local licensing authorities to trace any firearm used to commit a crime, brings Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and requires gun dealers to obtain a Criminal Offender Record Information check when hiring employees.
New crimes - assault and battery by means of a firearm and attempted assault and battery by means of a firearm - are also created by the legislation.
Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter says he first called for the separate shooting statutes in 2006 and predicted the measures would "fill a critical gap" for prosecutors working cases involving non-fatal shootings where he says the "solve rate" is drastically lower than in fatal shootings.
In a late-July statement after the bill was enacted, Sutter said, "These new crimes will be much easier to prove than armed assault with intent to murder, and as a result, we will win more trials and achieve more pleas, and thereby create a greater deterrent to shootings and ultimately to reduce gun violence."
The deadly shootings of teachers and students at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school in December 2012 spurred calls nationwide for new gun laws.
The bill awaiting Patrick's signature requires schools to develop plans to address mental health needs of students and staff, directs state officials to submit school construction blueprints to local police and fire departments, and requires schools to practice and evaluate medical emergency response plans each year.
Other provisions in the bill are aimed at ensuring that law enforcement officials have access to documents pertaining to the gun license applicants' health and criminal histories, including a provision requiring courts to report information pertaining to domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health.
More than 60 percent of all firearm deaths are categorized as suicides, according to the bill's supporters, who note the bill requires state officials to collect analyze information on suicides and issue public reports. The bill also requires at least two hours of suicide awareness and prevention training every three years for all licensed school personnel.
In the early morning hours of Aug. 1, following final passage of the bill, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said lawmakers had "made history" and said he looked forward to Patrick signing the bill.
The bill does not disqualify individuals with a misdemeanor punishable by less than two years from acquiring a firearm, lowers fines for expired firearm identification cards, and allows FID cards to remain valid for longer periods of time while renewals are pending.