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Gov. Deval Patrick signs sweeping gun bill into law

The rising star within the Democratic party on Wednesday signed a comprehensive firearms bill into law to help curb gun violence in Massachusetts.
Deval Patrick
Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Ma., speaks at the New England Governors and eastern Canadian Premiers 38th annual conference Monday, July 14, 2014, in Bretton Woods, N.H.

In a move likely to raise his profile and popularity further within the Democratic Party, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed bipartisan gun-safety legislation Wednesday that grants police chiefs the authority to prevent certain individuals from obtaining firearms licenses.

The sweeping new measure, effective immediately, is the first of its kind in the country. It most notably allows Massachusetts law enforcement officials the ability to withhold a firearm identification (FID) card from a resident who poses a threat to public safety. Before Patrick signed the bill on Wednesday, police chiefs could only prohibit someone from obtaining a license for a handgun, not for a rifle or shotgun. The chiefs now have 90 days to appear in court to defend their reasoning for the denial of a license to a certain individual.

The law also requires the creation of an online portal for private sales to close the existing loophole. Background checks have been required nationwide since November 1993, when former President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law after battling a lengthy struggle to pass the legislation. But the decades-old measure doesn't apply to about 40% of total gun sales that occur each day because of loopholes in the system.

"Our communities and our families are safer when irresponsible gun sales and use are reduced," Patrick said in a statement. "This legislation moves us in that direction."

The new legislation permits licensed firearms dealers to access criminal offender record information, enhances the penalty for carrying a weapon on academic premises and mandates that licensed school personnel receive at least two hours of suicide awareness and prevention training every three years.

state conference committee earlier this month approved the bill to increase record-keeping efforts and attempt to curb gun trafficking. But the National Rifle Association continued to oppose both the House and Senate versions, which lawmakers had been drafting since the months following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The Gun Owners' Action League of Massachusetts, however, supported the bipartisan measure, a rarity with gun-control bills.

Patrick is a rising star among his fellow Democrats. Some people view the first African-American governor of Massachusetts as a possible future presidential or vice-presidential choice. His approval of the legislation this week builds on other gun-safety policies he has filed since first taking office in 2006. One of those measures, approved in 2010, allows district attorneys the ability to request hearings for individuals charged with carrying an illegal firearm or possessing a gun after being convicted of a felony. A year later, he launched an initiative that aims to eliminate youth violence throughout his state.

While lawmakers in Massachusetts have succeeded at setting a nationwide example for gun control, leaders in other parts of the country have moved in the opposite direction, introducing laws to reduce restrictions on weapons. Last month, Georgia's so-called "guns everywhere" law went into effect, which allows licensed residents to carry guns into bars, nightclubs, school classrooms and even certain government buildings that lack security personnel. And in Washington, D.C., a federal judge recently overturned the region’s ban on carrying handguns in public, ruling that a 2009 total restriction on possessing firearms violated citizens' Second Amendment rights.

Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy on Wednesday urged his colleagues in Congress to follow his state's lead in addressing the country's gun violence by passing federal legislation. While a new report published this week revealed that school violence and gun-related injuries are among American parents' top 10 concerns nationwide, Congress remains in a stalemate on approving such measures, more than a year after the Senate failed to pass a bipartisan background checks bill last April.