By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 12, 2018….Despite what he called a “vise-like grip” that the National Rifle Association has on Congress, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey warned Monday that lawmakers would be punished this November if Congress fails to address gun safety in the wake of the Florida high school shooting.
Markey, who appeared with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and a host of law enforcement officials to detail his latest gun safety bill at Boston Police headquarters, said he believes the “children’s crusade” he has seen percolating across the country will spur his colleagues to act.
Students in districts around Massachusetts are planning to join teens from around the country in a 17-minute walkout from school on Wednesday morning to honor those killed at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I think that Congress is going to have to deal with the reality that this year, it’s going to be a voting issue across our country, that gun safety is now something animated by the voices of young people who are going to demand that Congress do something about it,” Markey said.
Democrats and Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have signaled a willingness to address federal gun laws after the latest mass shooting, but so far there has been no agreement on what should be done.
Markey on Monday presented a new proposal that would offer states incentives to adopt laws modeled off those in Massachusetts, where police have the power to approve or revoke gun licenses.
The bill – the Making America Safe and Secure Act – would authorize the Department of Justice to hand out $20 million in grants each year for the next five years to states that adopt and maintain laws modeled on those in Massachusetts.
But the senator also panned the president’s proposals to arm some teachers in schools, and criticized the White House’s move to set up a commission on school safety chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to explore issues such as increasing the age for gun purchasing.
“What we don’t need are President Trump’s misguided proposals to arm teachers in our schools,” Markey said. He also said, “We don’t need another commission. We need a commitment to put the strongest gun safety rules on the books. We need law like those that we have in Massachusetts.”
Markey’s bill would reward states that adopt laws giving local law enforcement the authority to deny, suspend or revoke a gun license, similar to what Massachusetts adopted as part of a 2014 gun law reform spearheaded by House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
The senator was joined by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Sheriffs Steven Tompkins and Peter Koutoujian, Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans, Stop Handgun Violence co-founder John Rosenthal and multiple local police chiefs.
Toughening gun laws in other states, law enforcement officials said, is critical to safety in Massachusetts where over 60 percent of the guns used to commit crimes here come from other states.
“Our government must value human lives more than it values guns,” Walsh said.
Commissioner Evans said the Boston police last year took 754 guns off the street, and have confiscated 130 guns so far this year, but there remains a flow of firearms into Massachusetts from out-of-state, some of which wind up being used to commit crimes.
“We can have the all toughest laws in the world here in Massachusetts, but if you can go across the state line and basically purchase them without a license or a permit it does no good,” Evans said.
Past efforts to track the origin of the guns taken by the Boston Police Department showed that 25 percent came from what Evans described as the I-95 corridor, or states like North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, and another 20 percent came from Maine and New Hampshire.
“I just hope that we have some luck in Washington, because honestly, they don’t seem to be getting the message,” Evans said.
Trump on Monday morning via Twitter said the White House would fully back the strengthening of federal background check law, and predicted bump stocks “will be out soon.” The president reiterated his position that arming trained teachers would be a deterrent to school violence, and said he was “watching court cases and rulings before acting” to raise the age to purchase a rifle or shotgun from 18 to 21.
“States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly),” Trump Tweeted.
Walsh said he remains opposed to arming teachers, and Markey chastised Trump for walking back his support for raising the age to purchase a rifle nationally to 21, which would be consistent with age limits for handguns.
“We’re having a debate right now where the president once again had to back away from what he promised in his meeting with the members of Congress and that’s because the NRA continues to hold the Untied States Congress in a vise like grip,” Markey said.
Koutoujian, the sheriff of Middlesex County, expressed his own frustration that he had to come to a press conference and make the same arguments that he made with Markey following the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut.
“I don’t want my children to be lucky that they weren’t involved in a school hooting. I simply want them to be safe,” said the father of three.
Markey said he would prefer to see the Massachusetts law that requires police chiefs to sign off on gun ownership licenses to become the national standard, but said the optional bill with the enticement of grant money would be a step in the right direction.
Asked whether cost was the prohibitive factor for other states, Markey said, “Our goal is to take away the excuses that may exist across the country.”
John Rosenthal, the founder of Stop Hand Gun Violence, said Massachusetts has reduced gun deaths by 40 percent since 1994 with strong gun laws, but said gun manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson in Springfield also have a role to play in improving safety nationwide.
Markey, according to Rosenthal, deserves credit for remaining optimistic that he can push gun licensing regulations through a divided Congress.
“That’s pretty tough dealing with organized crime in Washington,” he said.