Hooking on to the national and local momentum to tighten gun laws in the wake of last month's school shootings in Connecticut, Gov. Deval Patrick introduced new legislation Wednesday that seeks to strengthen gun control. At the same time, he announced plans to increase funding for mental health services.
"I am encouraged by the palpable consensus in our Legislature that the time for action is now. All of us must pull in the same direction to bring about real change in this state and across the country," Patrick said in a press release.
Specifically, the bill seeks to:
- Enhance background checks by requiring the Commonwealth’s courts to transmit all relevant mental health records to the state's criminal justice information system so that the federal government could include this information in a national registry all states access before issuing gun licenses. This would bring the state into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
- Close an existing loophole in order to require gun purchasers to undergo background checks at gun shows.
- Reduce access to high-powered rounds of ammunition.
- Limit the number of weapon sales by licensed dealers to not more than one per licensed individual a month. Additionally, the legislation requires private gun sales to occur at the business of a licensed dealer so that the sale can be tracked electronically and prevents the furnishing of a machine gun to any person under the age of 21.
- Amend the existing law addressing weapons on school grounds by creating tiered punishments for possessing different weapons on school property and giving police the authority to arrest without a warrant in order to quickly diffuse a dangerous situation on school property.
- Create four new crimes: assault and battery by means of a firearm, assault by means of a firearm, being a felon in possession of a firearm and commission of a violent misdemeanor while in possession of a weapon. Additionally, the bill increases the authorized minimum penalties for third and fourth offenses of illegal possession and carrying of firearms, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns and increases the maximum punishment for a second offense.
Patrick also announced Wednesday that he will propose a 3.3 percent increase in Department of Mental Health funding in the FY2014 budget he submits next week. That money would include:
- $2 million for Emergency Services Program supporting Secure Mobile Capacity and Technology: Mobile Crisis teams travel to locations with individuals in crisis and provide specialized mental health services from trained responders.
- $1 million for training middle and high school personnel to recognize symptoms of mental illness in students and to learn how to effectively address and support students with mental illness effectively.
- $900,000 for Crisis Intervention Training (CIT): This increase more than doubles the department’s current crisis intervention training budget for law enforcement and other community-based first responders. Responders trained in CIT can better recognize, de-escalate and intervene with individuals who are in emotional distress or suffering from a mental illness and divert them to treatment they need.
- $500,000 for the Massachusetts Child Psychiatric Access Program.
- $100,000 for to the Center for Early Detection and Response to Risk (CEDAR) program.
- $500,000 for a public education campaign to increase knowledge that treatment is effective and available, while reducing the stigma associated with accessing mental health services.