It’s a good bet that no lobbyist on Beacon Hill will be busier playing defense in this new legislative session than Jim Wallace of the Gun Owners Action League, the state branch of the National Rifle Association.
Yesterday, an estimated 200 legislators and staff members attended a meeting organized by Representative David Linsky of Natick, a leading gun control proponent, about reforming the state’s gun laws. And the day before, both Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray included gun control in their list of top legislative priorities.
The options discussed at yesterday’s meeting, according to Representative Linsky, included updating the definitions and types of firearms and ammunition permitted under the state’s assault weapons ban, closing the loophole in existing law allows purchases to be made at gun shows without background checks, gun storage, and mental health screening for those who wish to purchase guns.
The Gun Owners Action League seems prepared to stand its ground on all of these issues except the last one (guns don’t kill people, apparently, mentally ill people do). “The mental health issues have to be paramount,” Jim Wallace said yesterday. It will be interesting to see if the League makes a priority of restoring funding for mental health services in the state budget. That funding has been cut by about 15 percent during the last five recessionary years.
But even still, as others have observed, considering gun violence in tandem with mental illness can be dangerous. It often leads to subjective judgments (that mix readily with cultural biases) rather than to wise policy. To take just one small example, take a look at this item in the December 21st Gun Owners Action League newsletter (the same newsletter that denounced the Newtown tragedy as “the despicable, cowardly criminal act of a deranged individual”)? It’s a how-to guide for making a Christmas wreath from spent shotgun shells.
If your first reaction was — “What, are they crazy?” you’re not alone.