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Massachusetts legislators reach gun safety bill compromise

A Massachusetts gun safety bill that promises notable reform is currently awaiting the governor's signature.
A detail view of pistols in Dallas, Texas.
A detail view of pistols.

Massachusetts may soon have a comprehensive gun safety bill —the first of its kind in the country — that grants police chiefs the ability to prohibit certain individuals from obtaining firearms licenses. There's even a gun group that supports it.

A state conference committee on Thursday approved a sweeping measure to increase record-keeping efforts and attempt to curb gun trafficking in the state. The legislation most notably allows Massachusetts police chiefs the ability to withhold a firearm identification (FID) card from a resident who poses a threat to public safety. Police chiefs currently can deny a resident from obtaining a license to carry a handgun. They can't, however, prohibit an individual from acquiring a rifle or shotgun.

The measure, passed on the final day of the state's legislative session, is the result of a compromise between the House and Senate versions passed in July. House leaders approved legislation last month, but the state Senate, under pressure from gun rights groups and the National Rifle Association (NRA), then rejected the FID card provision. Under the compromise, police chiefs would have 90 days to appear in court to defend their reasoning for the denial of a license to a certain individual.

The NRA opposed both chambers' versions of the bill. But the Gun Owners' Action League of Massachusetts (GOAL) supported the new measure, which was built upon a "great foundation" from the House, said Jim Wallace, executive director of the pro-gun group.

"Never before has our Legislature seen a piece of legislation concerning gun trafficking and public safety that is supported so widely by so many — including GOAL," Wallace wrote in an email obtained by msnbc.

Among its provisions, the measure would also require the creation of an online portal for private sales — to close the gun sale loophole — and allow licensed firearms dealers to access criminal offender record information. The bill could enhance the penalty for carrying a weapon on academic premises and mandate that licensed school personnel receive at least two hours of suicide awareness and prevention training every three years.

"We seek not to be the safest state in the nation, but strive to make our communities the safest in the world," said House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Democrat who sponsored the House's version.

The components will "significantly reduce" the impact and prevalence of gun violence in the state, added Democratic Senate President Therese Murray.

Lawmakers began drafting the bill in the months following the December 2012 shooting inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. The legislative chambers now await the signature of Deval Patrick, the state's Democratic governor.

Massachusetts was among the 11 states that didn’t enact any guns laws in 2013, despite reform action in nearly half of the country. But as the state's lawmakers push for reform this year, leaders in other parts of the country want to lessen restrictions on gun laws. A federal judge in the District of Columbia, for instance, last week overturned the region's ban on carrying handguns in public. The decision was the result of a lawsuit that claimed the district's 2009 total ban on possessing firearms, whether open or concealed, violated citizens' Second Amendment rights. The judge ordered the city to allow residents to carry handguns outside of their homes, and also grant the same privileges to nonresidents.