By Gintautas Dumcius

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE -- The Senate on Thursday will take up its version of legislation aimed at reducing gun violence as the local chapter of the National Rifle Association hardened its position on the bill just days after calling the House version a "victory" for the second amendment.

The House passed its version in a 112-38 vote last week, after picking up support from anti-gun violence activists and a gun owners' group.

The Senate bill (S 2265), which is similar to the House version, requires Massachusetts to join the national instant background check system, authorizes licensed gun dealers to acquire criminal offender information and requires them to obtain the information prior to hiring new employees.

According to a Senate Ways and Means summary, the bill also requires the Executive Office of Public Safety to craft a biennial report with data and statistics on firearm crime and allows the State Police to establish a criminal firearms and trafficking unit, a provision lobbied for by gun rights owners and included in the House bill.

The Senate bill also establishes "unsuitability standards" that licensing authorities must use in doling out firearm licenses, and sets up a judicial review process for applicants and holders of a license-to-carry.

The Gun Owners Action League, which declared itself "neutral" on the House bill before House lawmakers cast their votes, shifted course on Monday and said it will push for the removal of the unsuitability standards in the Senate bill. The National Rifle Association opposed the House bill, which had the same language.

"We are pleased with many measures in the Senate version," Jim Wallace, executive director of GOAL, said in a statement. "However, discretionary licensing for FID cards is not something we can live with or support."

GOAL, the local chapter of the NRA, said it supported language that creates a new statute for assault and battery with a firearm.

The House bill (H 4285) was filed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo in the aftermath of a 2012 shooting inside a Connecticut elementary school. Input from a task force appointed by DeLeo was included in the bill.

Senators have until 5 p.m. on Tuesday to file amendments to the bill.

John Rosenthal, a businessman and founder of Stop Handgun Violence, said he was unhappy with the Senate version. "The House bill is far superior because it's more complete and comprehensive," he said.

Rosenthal disagreed with a Senate provision allowing licensing authorities to dispose of some firearms taken as evidence in criminal cases through a sale or trade a year after a case is over. "They should be destroyed," he said. "These are crime guns."

Rosenthal said he also disagreed with the bill's elimination of a requirement in January 2021 that gun owners file with the state an FA-10 form, or a report of sale, once a real-time web portal on all sales and secondary market gun sales is functional.

The Senate bill, similar to a provision in a domestic violence bill passed in the House passed in April, includes language that removes pepper spray and mace from firearms identification card requirements for people 18 years and older.

"This would deregulate pepper spray and mace and I don't see why we would do that," Rosenthal said.

The Senate bill also has school safety provisions, such as expanding the school building assistance program to include safety and security upgrades and requiring school districts to have a school resources officer, to develop mental health plans for students and faculty, and to provide two hours of suicide awareness and prevention training to personnel every three years.

Firearms identification cards and licenses to carry would have to include phone numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Samaritans Statewide Helpline. The 90-day renewal process for a FID card is eliminated.