Massachusetts has required that gun owners get permits since 1968, although initially the state approved permits automatically for anybody without major crime convictions or other disqualifying factors. In the parlance of gun control, it was a “shall issue” system rather than a “may issue” system, in which officials or law enforcement would have had leeway to deny licenses in certain circumstances.
That changed in 1998, when state lawmakers gave police broad discretion to withhold handgun licenses for people who were, in the police department’s judgment, “unsuitable.” In 2014, following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Massachusetts lawmakers, led by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, strengthened its gun laws yet again, expanding police discretion so that it applied to rifles and shotguns, too.
Gun homicides and suicides still happen in Massachusetts, in part because people without licenses still manage to get guns. But gun violence happens a lot less frequently than it does in most states.
Adjusted for age and population, the gun fatality rate in Massachusetts for 2016 was the lowest in the U.S. And that’s how it’s been for most of the last 30 years, although sometimes another state, like Hawaii, ends up with a slightly lower rate.
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