Massachusetts Attorney General Urges New Approach to Gun Safety
By Greg McDonald, Senior Writer
In a joint news conference Tuesday with the Washington, D.C.-based Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, Reilly noted the success his office has had in using state laws to impose safety standards on gun manufacturers. He called on other states to use the same approach to prevent deaths associated with gun violence since federal consumer safety regulations are not applied to guns.
"I am urging other states to use their consumer protection laws to adopt common sense gun safety regulations like we have in Massachusetts," Reilly said. "These measures will protect our children by making sure gun owners buy handguns with built-in safety features. Combined with a coordinated effort among educators, police and parents to share information about threats and troubled students, these gun safety measures are an important piece of any strategy to prevent future tragedies in our schools."
Reilly used his appearance to endorse a new report by the center's Legal Action Project that identifies 20 states with laws similar to the Massachusetts statute that could be used to set firearms safety standards. The report, entitled "Targeting Safety: How State Attorneys General Can Act Now to Save Lives," encourages the states' chief law enforcement officers and other officials to apply existing laws to guns the same way they would to companies that manufacture normal consumer products such as toys or lawnmowers.
The report cited statutes in the following states that could be applied to gun manufacturers and owners: Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and West Virginia.
"One of the tragic absurdities of our nation's gun policy is that guns, which take the lives of 30,000 Americans every year, are completely exempt from federal consumer safety regulation," said CPHV President Michael Barnes.
"State officials have the power right now to save lives by making handguns safer without the need to enact new laws. The National Rifle Association is fond of saying that we need to more vigorously enforce existing laws to prevent violence. That's exactly what we are asking state officials to do," Barnes added.
Efforts to reach NRA officials for comment were unsuccessful.
The report's release coincided with the start this week of the annual Washington, D.C. conference of the National Association of Attorneys General. It also followed the recent outbreaks of school gun violence in California and Pennsylvania.
The recent school eruptions have drawn little response from federal lawmakers. But a number of state legislatures took immediate steps in the aftermath of the California tragedy to move up consideration of gun control measures or to address school security issues.
Reilly and other gun control advocates are hopeful that states will act with the same kind of speed to impose new gun safety restrictions on manufacturers through laws that are already on the books.
In 1997, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to apply consumer product safety standards to handguns. Under an existing protection law, the state ordered gun manufacturers selling in the state to meet specific quality standards by "child-proofing " guns with certain safety features such as trigger locks, magazine disconnect safeties or chamber loaded indicators to help reduce accidental shootings.
The action was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1999, which ruled that the law authorizes the attorney general to go after "unfair or deceptive trade practices" that could lead to accidents or criminal misuse of firearms. As a result of the court ruling, gun companies are now treated in Massachusetts just like any other manufacturer of products considered to be dangerous to public safety.
In its report, the center referred to handguns as a "household consumer product" posing "significant risks." That designation, the report went on to say, gives states that have consumer protection statutes the right to implement their own gun safety restrictions on manufacturers.
All of the states identified in the report do have consumer protection or unfair trade and merchandising statutes on the books, many of them modeled after a provision of the Federal Trade Commission Act that addresses consumer rights. Known as "Baby FTCs" they give state the power to regulate a variety of consumer products. But they have rarely, if ever, been used against gun manufacturers.
The state whose statute most closely resembles the Massachusetts law is West Virginia, where the attorney general also has broad authority to apply unfair or deceptive trade practices to "any goods or services."