BOSTON — In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed dozens and injured hundreds more, Massachusetts politicians have been among those imploring Republican congressional leaders to toughen the nation’s gun laws.
While the tragedy could also prompt states to re-examine their laws, major changes are unlikely in Massachusetts, which is widely viewed by those on both sides of the debate as having some of America’s strictest gun control rules. Yet here, as elsewhere, there are still many points of contention.
A look at where Massachusetts stands as the national debate over gun violence rages anew:
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national organization, gave Massachusetts an A- on its most recent national scorecard and ranked the state as the fourth strongest for gun control in the U.S., citing factors such as universal background checks, child safety rules and regulation of large capacity firearms and magazines.
The gun fatality rate of about 3 per 100,000 residents was the lowest of the 50 states. Massachusetts also has one of the lowest rates for household gun ownership.
“I do take some comfort in the fact that assault weapons are banned in Massachusetts and we have among the toughest gun laws in the country,” said Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre.
While it’s true that many semi-automatic weapons like the ones Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock was believed to have possessed are outlawed in Massachusetts, there has been recent controversy around this subject.
In July 2016, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey announced a crackdown on so-called “copy” or “duplicate” weapons, including copies of the banned Colt AR-15 and Kalashnikov AK-47. She said gun dealers were exploiting a loophole in the 1998 assault weapons ban to sell assault rifles “nearly identical” to those used in some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings.
Healey’s unilateral action, while not affecting guns bought or sold before her enforcement letter , drew a swift rebuke from the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts. The group later filed for an injunction in U.S. District Court.
“The Second Amendment is a civil right and as such cannot be allowed to be abused for perceived political gain,” said Jim Wallace, executive director of the League, at the time. A trial date for the lawsuit is tentatively set for May.
CHANGES AFTER NEWTOWN
Following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo appointed a task force to review Massachusetts’ gun laws. While acknowledging the state’s laws were already among the toughest, the task force concluded that more could be done.
The panel’s recommendations eventually led to passage of a wide-ranging 2014 law that mandated background checks for all private gun sales and required Massachusetts to join a national instant criminal background database that would include pertinent mental health information.
A proposal to limit consumers to no more than one firearms purchase per month was dropped from the final bill, as was a call to give local police chiefs the same discretion over the granting of permits to own rifles and shotguns as they have over handguns. The chiefs were empowered to petition a judge to deny permits for rifles and shotguns.
The Las Vegas shooting could lead to at least some further tinkering with laws in Massachusetts.
Bills filed by Democratic state Rep. David Linsky and by Republican leaders in the Legislature seek to prohibit “bump stocks,” a device that investigators say Paddock used to increase the speed at which his weapons fired on concertgoers.
“These devices were created by gun manufacturers as a work-around of the federal law banning the sale and possession of automatic weapons,” said Linsky.
Baker said he would sign a bill prohibiting bump stocks if it reached his desk.
The Gun Owners Action League, meanwhile, has filed several bills for the current legislative session including a proposal to ease the state’s ban on firearm suppressors. The devices, often referred to as silencers, reduce noise and limit muzzle flash from weapons when fired.