BOSTON — As U.S. Sen. Ed Markey prepares to work with what he expects to be a Democrat-controlled Congress to push a Massachusetts model of gun legislation, policymakers within the state will also be looking for what more can be done to prevent shooting deaths and injuries here.
A Malden Democrat who in March filed legislation that would financially incentivize states to require their local police chiefs to sign off on gun license applications, Markey on Thursday said he thinks his party is "about to take over" the U.S. House of Representatives and "come very close in the Senate." Republicans currently hold majorities in both branches.
"I'm going to have a lot more allies after next Tuesday in the United States House, and hopefully the Senate," Markey told reporters. "I think it's inevitable that the whole country realizes that it makes sense that every police chief in America determines who can purchase a gun in their city or town. We do that in Massachusetts. We need to do it across the whole country. I think it's going to be hard to vote against police chiefs determining who has guns in our country."
Markey spoke at an unveiling event for a billboard for Stop Handgun Violence, founded by Gloucester resident John Rosenthal. The billboard is on the side of the 50 Dalton St. parking garage in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood.
The billboard bears an image of Joaquin Oliver, one of the students killed in the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, alongside the messages "If I had attended high school in Massachusetts instead of Parkland, Florida, I would likely be alive today" and "Gun laws save lives."
Joaquin's parents, Manuel and Patricia Oliver, joined Markey, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Sen. Cynthia Creem, Rep. Marjorie Decker, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and others for the event.
Manuel Oliver said his son was a baseball fan who loved the city of Boston and had decided Fenway Park had the best hot dogs of any stadium. He said if God had told him, "Here's this kid, he's gonna be beautiful, he's gonna love baseball, he's gonna be your best friend, but he can only be with you for 17 years," he would have taken the offer to have Joaquin as part of his life for just that short time.
"When it comes to reality, which is what brings us here, this time, this speech that I am giving today is not only demanding for solutions. It's offering a solution," Oliver said, referring to Massachusetts' gun laws.
"Some people ask me, 'What do you want us to do?' OK, so here it is," he said. "This is what I want you to do, because it shows that it has been working here. This message that we're sending from Boston, from Massachusetts, we're sending it to the people in Florida."
Attorney General Maura Healey called the 90-foot-by-20-foot billboard "startling and thought provoking." She said the country will "continue to fail families unless we take sensible, needed action now."
Healey's office and Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit led by families of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, last month received a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice to expand violence prevention education in Massachusetts schools. The attorney general on Thursday called that work "innovative" and "important."
"I'm also going to continue as attorney general to work with others in other states," she told the News Service. "We need better laws in other states in order to protect people from gun violence in Massachusetts. Over 60 percent of the guns that turn up in crimes here in Massachusetts come from other states, and specifically states with lax gun laws."
Massachusetts has passed a series of gun laws in recent years, including a 2014 package of reforms that gave police chiefs more discretion over licensing, a 2017 ban on bump stocks like the ones used in the mass shooting in Las Vegas last year, and a "red flag" law that allows family members to petition the courts to suspend gun ownership rights of someone they believe to be a danger.
Rosenthal, the Stop Handgun Violence founder, praised House Speaker Robert DeLeo for his work on the Bay State's gun laws, describing his leadership as "exactly what's needed in every state house across America," and DeLeo said gun safety would remain a priority for House lawmakers.
"Looking forward, we're studying how to better trace weapons, how to close existing loopholes and establishing best practices for school safety," DeLeo said. "My hope is that this new billboard, while honoring the victims like Joaquin, will inspire others to join our cause."
After the event, DeLeo, who is running unopposed and plans to seek a sixth term as speaker in January, said he did not yet know specifically what steps the House might take.
"As I'm standing here right now, I can't give you a direct answer in term what the changes may be, if any, but I will tell you this -- each and every year as we're beginning our legislative session, we do take a look at our gun laws, and we do take a look and see what has worked in the past and might be able to be worked better if we were to address it," he said. "So I will tell you it's just one of those subjects that will always be something that we take a look at."