BOSTON—Activists pointing to the recent shooting deaths of two Boston teens are pressuring state lawmakers to pass a sweeping gun bill backed by Gov. Deval Patrick.
Patrick's bill would limit Massachusetts gun buyers to one firearm per month and strengthen the hands of district attorneys prosecuting those charged with illegally possessing a firearm.
The bill is designed to stanch the flow of illegal handguns by clamping down on so-called "straw purchasers" who buy guns legally and then resell them to convicted felons and others barred from owning guns.
"We are not going to accept the fact that our children die on the sidewalk and it ends there," said Kim Odom, whose 13-year-old son Steven was shot and killed in 2007 on his way home from playing basketball.
Odom said the deaths last month of two Boston 14-year-olds drives home the need for Patrick's legislation.
Jaewon Martin, an eighth-grade honors student, was gunned down after he went to buy Mother's Day cards for his mother and grandmother.
Weeks later, Nicholas Fomby-Davis was shot while riding his scooter. Two suspects were arrested. They both face murder charges.
"What will it take?" said the Rev. Ray Hammond. "Do we have to have more of our 14-year-olds shot?"
Opponents of the bill say Massachusetts already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country and more focus should be placed on enforcing those existing laws than creating even more restrictions to gun ownership.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, said Patrick's bill would punish law-abiding gun owners for the problem of inner-city violence. He said there should be no limit on the number of guns that licensed owners can purchase.
Instead of writing ever-tougher licensing requirements, the state and law enforcement officials should focus on cracking down on hardcore criminals instead, Wallace said. His group has filed its own bill which he said would do just that, he said.
"Once you separate the two issues you can get much tougher on the criminal without ensnaring the lawful citizen," he said. "If the crimes are being committed, where are the prosecutions?"
John Rosenthal, founder of the Boston-based Stop Handgun Violence, said one gun purchase a month is reasonable.
"No law-abiding gun owner needs more than 12 guns a year," he said.
Interest in the bill has increased as the Legislature nears the close of its formal session at the end of July.
On Tuesday, the House voted 111-32 to send Patrick's bill back to the Judiciary Committee after the bill was reported unfavorably out of the committee in what some members said was a botched vote.
Earlier in the week, House Speaker Robert DeLeo pledged to allow the bill to come up for a vote in the House.
Besides creating a one-gun-a-month limit, Patrick's bill would let Massachusetts district attorneys seek to deny bail to those charged with illegally possessing a firearm.
The bill would also tighten laws governing who may handle machine guns, including those fired at gun clubs and shooting ranges.
In October, 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj, of Ashford, Conn., accidentally shot and killed himself when he lost control of the 9mm micro submachine gun as it recoiled while he was firing at a pumpkin at the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman's Club.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat, represents the district where one of the two 14-year-olds was killed last month.
She said in some parts of her district, it's easier to buy a gun than a fresh fruit or vegetable.
"Imagine a 14-year-old handling one of these guns. It happens all too often in my district," she said. "There is something so deeply wrong with that visual and we know it in our core."