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MetroWest Daily News - Spilka: Strengthening gun control in Massachusetts

Op-Ed

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By Sen. Karen Spilka

We have all been touched by terrible tragedies over this last year. The mass murders in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut shocked us all. Unbelievably, despite those awful events, Congress has failed to act. We owe it to our children, our families and our communities to strengthen gun control laws to prevent future tragedies caused by senseless violence. Massachusetts has been a leader among the states with some of the strictest gun control laws, but even here we fall short in protecting our communities. According to FBI data, 122 murders were committed with guns in Massachusetts in 2011. That same year, guns were used in 1,486 armed robberies and 1,870 aggravated assaults. These numbers are chilling -- no one should have to live in fear of gun violence.

As a country, we ultimately need to establish uniform national standards. A report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns shows that states with weak gun laws are very often the sources of guns recovered from Massachusetts crime scenes. Strict gun control legislation at the state-level is meaningless when guns and other dangerous weapons can make their way across state lines. Communities across the country are struggling with the same fears and risks, and as a country we must address these issues.

While we wait for Congress to act, there are changes we can and should make to strengthen Massachusetts' own gun control laws. Those changes are being debated by the State Legislature right now. On Friday, Sept. 13, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security will hold its final public hearing on bills related to gun safety and regulation at the State House. This is the last of five public hearings that were held across the state, seeking feedback and testimony on more than 60 bills addressing a range of gun-related issues. With input from the public -- including gun violence survivors, victims' advocates, educators and responsible gun owners -- my colleagues and I hope to draft and pass comprehensive gun control legislation.

We must do what we can to prevent future tragedies and protect the lives of our children and neighbors. A final comprehensive bill must close the loopholes that impede the enforcement of our current gun laws, increasing public safety while also protecting the rights of law-abiding, responsible gun owners. Of the many important gun safety bills filed this session, several key elements are especially necessary in any final bill.

Background checks.

We must improve the background check system to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals, without stigmatizing vulnerable populations.

Oversight of private gun sales.

Our laws must ensure that all gun transactions are made through registered dealers. A strong background check system and other gun safety restrictions have no chance of being effective if people are able to sidestep these rules by purchasing guns from unregistered dealers.

High capacity weapons.

High capacity and military-style weapons do not belong on our streets and in our homes. The sale of these types of weapons must be limited or even banned.

FID card requirements.

The requirements for the issuance of a firearms identification card (FID) should be changed to give more discretion to police departments. As part of a stronger background check system, local police chiefs should be allowed to more readily exercise their own judgment on a case-by-case basis.

Above all, the debate over gun control must include thoughtful consideration of the issue of mental health. While our laws should keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of individuals unfit for such responsibility, as a community we must also prioritize services for the mentally ill and at-risk youth. Our entire society benefits when vulnerable populations receive the resources and services they need.

Friday's public hearing -- beginning at 10 a.m. in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House -- is an important step in the fight to protect our communities and prevent future gun-related tragedies. The day-long hearing is an opportunity for members of the public to express their opinions, share their expertise and tell their stories. I hope that many in the community will make their voices heard.


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