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Massachusetts Should Lead Charge For National Firearm License

A first firearm purchase should never be the result of a whim, but in many states in the country it can be.

pic of mass state house
Massachusetts State House (image courtesy of mass.gov)

4/4/18 J.D. Lakota (Boston, MA)

Any and all Massachusetts legislators and politicians, all duly elected officials: I call on you. How would you like to be the next president of our great country? Answer the call, and you could deserve to be elected the 46th president of the United States.

As reported by Reuters in March, 2018 about the March For Our Lives: “Chanting “never again,” hundreds of thousands of young Americans and their supporters answered a call to action from survivors of last month’s Florida high school massacre and rallied across the United States on Saturday to demand tighter gun laws.”

Indeed, many states in the country have very loose gun laws. For a model of the opposite, look to Massachusetts, who years ago successfully implemented the type of legislation many states in the country desperately need.

Just recently, Massachusetts was once again the last state to take the national lead in firearm safety, which came in the form of a bill to ban bump stocks. We were the first state in the country to pass legislation like this as a result of the lives lost in Las Vegas. A national bump stock ban soon followed.

Numbers Don't Lie

Massachusetts has the lowest rate of firearm deaths per capita in the country based on the last reported data set provided by the Centers for Disease Control for 2016. In 2015, the state also had the lowest rate. This is the middle column in both charts, which shows how many firearm deaths occur per every 100,000 residents in a state.

CDC Firearm Mortality by State, Sorted by Low Death Rate

In 2016, for every 100,000 Massachusetts residents, "3.4" people died as the result of a discharged firearm. The column on the right shows the exact number of firearm deaths in the state. The numbers in this column reflect a state's population size. For example, Rhode Island has a higher firearm death rate than Massachusetts, but a lower number of deaths. This is because Massachusetts has a much larger population.

In 2014, Massachusetts ranked third lowest in firearm deaths. The next available data set is for 2005. Massachusetts ranked second lowest. Take a closer look at the CDC data here. To get an idea of the numbers in states with the highest rates of firearm death, here is the 2016 data set sorted in the opposite direction.

CDC Firearm Mortality by State, Sorted by High Death Rate

Here are the 2016 firearm death rates for states where mass shootings have occurred in recent memory:
  • South Carolina: 17.7
  • Nevada: 16.8
  • Colorado: 14.3
  • Florida: 12.6
  • Texas: 12.1

Per the latest Giffords Law Center data for "Gun Law Strength," the high death rate states mentioned here generally rate between middle to weakest. And, all except one of these states have an overall grade of "F," per Giffords.

The exception from above is Colorado, and maybe it's because it is now an example of positive change. All these years after Columbine, the state now ranks 15th for gun law strength and Giffords gives it an overall grade of C. Have a closer look at the Giffords scorecard data here.

Mass Shootings are a Multi-Faceted Problem

The shooting tragedies that have plagued our nation since before Columbine are a multi-faceted problem. As such, there is no single solution. There is no either-or. Our country must address any contributing factors within its ability. This article addresses just one facet.

Making your first firearm purchase should never be the result of a whim, but it can be in many states in the country. The goal of a national firearm license would be to bring sensible gun laws like those of Massachusetts to the rest of the country.

Florida is a state with loose gun laws. As such, the number of “social interactions” required for a citizen to get their first firearm is one. In Massachusetts, it takes several or more steps just to get to that single step required by Florida. All of these steps require one or more social interactions between the eventual gun owner and those, who by our legislation, stand between them.

Start to finish, it take about two months to legally obtain your first firearm in Massachusetts. One of the steps involves going to your local police station to hand in a completed application. That step alone requires a minimum of one social interaction. If the officer on duty calls the administrator to take your application, that one step now requires two social interactions.

Web of Social Interactions

Social interactions are important because they give people in a community a chance to potentially “see something and say something.” For example, while waiting to hand in a firearm application, an applicant receives an unexpected phone call. The attending officer notices that the applicant quickly rushes outside to take the call and instantly starts screaming at the caller. Two minutes later, the applicant returns.

Sure, what the applicant did was not illegal, but in the context of handing in an application for a license that always requires clear thinking and restraint, acting that way in public could raise an eyebrow or two.

In addition to the potential for observations made during social interactions, the license process in Massachusetts requires applicants to understand that it is an involved one, limiting the impulsive. You also need to ask your friends and neighbors to vouch for you, generally submitting three letters as part of an application packet. Each of these requirements adds to the web of social interactions.

Massachusetts Gun Owners Would Likely See a Reduction in Existing Laws

A national firearm license would not only be good for the country, but for states that already have firearm laws like those of Massachusetts, there would be an added benefit for current gun owners. Aside from the many sensible gun laws we have, there are at least several that many Massachusetts residents would consider excessive. An important condition of passing a national firearm license would be the nullification of existing state firearm laws at the time of acceptance.

For Massachusetts, this would most certainly result in a period of reduction in laws. After adopting a national firearm license, states could once again work to strengthen their state by-laws to include additional requirements. Any new laws would take time to pass and require the will of the people.

Again, I call on you, the elected officials of Massachusetts, to lead the charge for a national firearm license. The numbers don't lie. Our state clearly has the unique wisdom to lead the country toward this goal. There is clearly no time to waste. Will you lead the charge?

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