By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
The Massachusetts House of Representatives took an important step this month in passing a commonsense gun control bill that fairly addresses all the facets of this critical issue. Massachusetts police chiefs—who already have discretion over licenses to carry firearms—will be able to deny an application for a firearm identification card if the applicant is deemed a safety risk; licensed gun dealers will be able to obtain a CORI check when hiring employees; and the state would create an online portal for private gun sales. Meanwhile, school districts would be required to develop plans to address students’ mental health needs and have a school resource officer for security purposes, and the State Police would have a new criminal firearms and trafficking unit.
The Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) has moved from opposed to neutral on the bill, with GOAL’s executive director stating that “we believe this is a victory for the 2nd Amendment in Massachusetts.” I’m proud that the House under the leadership of Speaker DeLeo was able to create a bipartisan bill and hope that the conference committee puts forward a bill that includes these provisions, but there remains the problem of the guns that are already out there—and who can get their hands on them.
That’s why on Saturday, the Somerville Police and Middlesex Sheriff’s Office will hold a “Food For Guns” firearm buyback program this Saturday, where Somerville residents can trade in unwanted firearms and ammunition for grocery gift certificates—no questions asked. If you turn in a firearm at the event and do not have a license, you will not be prosecuted. Bring your unloaded firearms—and transport it unloaded in the trunk of your vehicle—to the rear of the Public Safety Building between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and any firearms turned in will be logged by the Sherriff’s Office and sent out for destruction.
The data is clear—removing guns from a home keeps our families and residents safe. Having a gun in a home significantly increases the risk of someone in that home committing suicide, according to a review of several studies by University of California, San Francisco researchers. More than half of deaths from suicides are firearm-related and more than three-quarters of suicides occur in the victim’s home. That same review also found evidence, to a lesser degree than for suicides, of increased risk of being murdered when guns are present in a person’s home.
This is also a domestic violence issue. Women living in homes with at least one gun were more than three times more likely to be killed in their homes, according to a fact sheet on intimate partner violence and firearms by Johns Hopkins University. That fact sheet also notes that family and intimate assaults with firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than non-firearm assaults. The University of California study review states that women who live in a home with guns have a higher risk of dying in a murder, and that “empirical evidence suggests that most homicide victims know their assailant, which suggests an interpersonal dispute within the household or other domestic violence and not an unknown intruder.”
These statistics are not an indictment of responsible gun owners. Firearms that are stored loaded or unlocked are naturally more likely to be used in a suicide and adolescent suicide victims often use an unlocked firearm in the home. Responsible gun owners keep their firearms locked and unloaded. Nor do these statistics mean that someone with a gun in their home is more prone to violence or self-harm. Rather, it’s a question of immediacy and availability. A troubled person in an emotional, tense situation where a gun is readily accessible could act on a rash impulse that, without the gun there, would not have to end in death, the University of California researchers point out.
Mass shootings in Newtown, Aurora and elsewhere sparked the debate that has led to the House bill, but sensible and fair gun laws are about more than mass shootings. In the past seven years, more than 900 people have died in mass shootings—that accounts for less than 1 percent of all gun-related homicides. The terrible tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek and, most recently, Santa Barbara bring attention to the issue of gun control, but every day 33 Americans are killed, mostly with handguns. Last June, the number of shooting victims in Boston rose to more than one per day. That was the most it had been since the turbulent years of 1990-1995. Gun buyback programs alone won’t solve the problem, but they are an important piece of a comprehensive approach, along with the steps put forth in the House bill.
If you have unwanted firearms or ammunition in your home, whether you are licensed or not, please bring them to the Public Safety Building this Saturday and help us prevent another tragedy before it occurs.
The “Food For Guns” Gun Buyback program will be held on Saturday, August 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the rear of the Somerville Public Safety Building, 220 Washington St. Any and all hand guns, rifles, shotguns, BB guns and air guns, working or non working, antique or modern, registered or not and ammunition will be accepted. Residents are asked to bring the unloaded firearm, or any ammunition, transported in the trunk of their vehicle in a clear sealed plastic bag or box. No questions will be asked and no identification is required. Unlicensed residents who turn in weapons will not be prosecuted for the crime of unlawful possession of a weapon.