- Feb 20, 2022
I really like being able to point to experiments that have already worked when trying to solve big problems at a national level. This seems like one.
Massachusetts offers a model for dealing with gun violence that the rest of the country could follow.
Drive a few miles south to Massachusetts, though, and the process is very different. First off, it doesn’t begin at a gun shop; it begins by obtaining a permit to purchase a gun from your local police department — basically, a gun license. Obtaining this permit is a potentially weeks-long process, which requires paperwork, an interview, a background check, and, even if you pass all of that, the police chief has some discretion to deny the license anyway — if he or she, for example, knows something about your past that may not necessarily show up in your criminal record.
Only once you clear that entire process can you go to a gun store. Then, you have to show your license and pass additional background checks. If you do that, you can get your gun, which will have to be registered in a database of all the state’s firearms, the Massachusetts Gun Transactions Portal.
In particular, experts honed in on Massachusetts’s gun licensing system, which treats the ability to own and use guns much like the ability to own and use a car: with license and registration required.
The system, experts said, is one of the major reasons Massachusetts consistently reports the lowest gun death rates in the US. Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, Massachusetts had 3.6 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2016. In comparison, New Hampshire’s gun death rate was 9.9 per 100,000 people, and the top three worst states for gun deaths in the country — Alaska, Alabama, and Louisiana, all of which have loose gun laws — each had more than 21 gun deaths per 100,000 people.
As David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, put it, “All other things equal, [places] where there’s strong laws and with few guns do much better than places where there’s weak laws and lots of guns.”
The idea is not to remove the ability to own a gun, which is, for better or worse, a constitutional right in the US. In fact, at least 97 percent of license applications are accepted in the state, according to a 2017 analysis by Jack McDevitt at Northeastern University and Janice Iwama at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
But Massachusetts’s laws create several hurdles that make it far more difficult for people, particularly those with ill intent, to purchase a firearm.