In addition, Northeastern University professor Jack McDevitt is leading an independent commission, created by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, to examine gun regulations in Massachusetts and recommend improvements. Out-of-state guns are expected to come under scrutiny.
“I do think that access to guns is part of the problem, and that people can pretty easily get a gun even if they couldn’t get a gun here in Massachusetts,” McDevitt said.
Deaths by firearms in New Hampshire occur at twice the rate in Massachusetts; in Maine, the rate is triple.
“Massachusetts probably has the toughest laws on the books, but what happens is people go across borders and buy guns and bring them into our state,” Menino said last week. “Guns have no borders.”
Philip Markoff, known as the “Craigslist killer,” bought his alleged murder weapon in New Hampshire. Markoff, a former Boston University medical student, was charged with shooting a masseuse in a Boston hotel in 2009. He was awaiting trial when he committed suicide the following year at the Nashua Street Jail.
According to law-enforcement records, Markoff bought a 9mm pistol at the State Line Gun Shop in Mason, N.H., while using another man’s New York driver’s license and falsely saying he had attended college in New Hampshire.
Menino and many gun-control activists are pushing to make illegal firearms trafficking a federal crime. They argue that ito would help crack down on straw purchasers who buy weapons in states with lax gun laws, return to tougher jurisdictions like Massachusetts, and resell the weapons to criminals and other unlicensed buyers.
Mitchell, the New Bedford mayor, says national legislation to create consistent, universal background checks would also help. An estimated 40 percent of firearms, sold privately or at gun shows in the United States, are not subject to background checks, which search government databases for criminal or mental-health records that would prohibit a sale.
A Quinnipiac University poll in three large states, released Thursday, showed overwhelming support for broader background checks. More than 92 percent of respondents in New Jersey and Virginia supported checks at gun shows. In Pennsylvania, 95.5 percent of respondents backed checks for every gun purchase.
Despite calls for stricter purchasing laws, many gun-rights advocates argue that the rise in firearms violence shows that too much attention has been placed on regulation and not enough on tracking criminals. Legal gun ownership in Massachusetts has plummeted since 1998, from about 1.5 million licensed owners to 230,000, said Wallace, the Gun Owners’ Action League official.
Meanwhile, he said, the state’s gun laws “had really no effect on crime. But what they have managed to do is disarm the lawful gun owners. Obviously, we did something drastically wrong as a society in 1998 when the Legislature passed those laws.”
Instead of burdening responsible gun owners with a slew of regulatory hurdles, Wallace suggested, authorities should relax licensing laws and draw up a list of “prohibited persons” to deny weapons to criminals and the mentally ill.
Gun-control advocates scoff at the notion that rising gun violence can be attributed to the 1998 laws. Instead, they suggest, the problem is linked to large cuts in police budgets, recession-related poverty, and the continuing flow of guns from out of state. “Since 2000, law enforcement funding has been cut by billions across the nation,” said John Rosenthal, founder and chairman of Stop Handgun Violence, an advocacy group based in Newton.
Instead of crimping the ability of law enforcement to combat gun crime, he said, those funds should be restored. And states with strict gun laws like Massachusetts, Rosenthal added, should be protected by a uniform system of background checks that applies to every state.
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.