An impressive, wide-ranging gun reform law, passed in 2014, has not reduced gun violence and gun crime at all in Massachusetts. The annual number of firearm-related crimes, homicides, suicides, and prosecutions appears unaffected so far, according to a new report required by the law itself. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean the law isn’t working, or was misguided. But it does raise questions about what a state that’s already got tough laws can do—and whether the state is really even trying. 

The law, signed by Deval Patrick, required the state to do a better job providing background-check information to national databases, and tracking private gun purchases and transfers. Procedures for issuing licenses were also changed. It also charged the state’s education department with helping create school safety plans. 

It also required the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) to compile previously unavailable or difficult-to-find data into a report every two years. The second such report was submitted earlier this month. 

It shows that since the law took effect, an average of 100 people each year were murdered by gun in Massachusetts. That’s barely changed from 102 per year in the four years preceding the new law. 

The average number of suicides by gun rose slightly, from 130 a year to 136. And total gun-related crimes have remained essentially unchanged. 

That’s not really surprising, and shouldn’t be alarming, says David Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Massachusetts is already one of the safest states in terms of gun violence, and the advances in the new law may take time to show their effect.  

 “There shouldn’t be anything spectacular” in the data, says Hemenway. “There are a lot of things in this law, and it’s going to improve public safety over time.” 

Hemenway was part of an eight-member task force that met throughout 2013—prompted by the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut tragedy—and provided recommendations to House Speaker Robert DeLeo that formed the basis for the 2014 legislation.  

Massachusetts already had relatively low gun violence numbers, thanks in large part to low gun ownership rates and strong existing laws. Plus, the state remains in large part dependent on other states tightening their laws, to staunch the flow of straw-purchased or stolen guns into the state. Still, the task force found a variety of elements that could be added or strengthened. 

In a way, this is how Massachusetts continues to get it right on guns, and how the rest of the country would be well-advised to follow the Bay State’s lead.  

Still, the lack of progress shown in the new data is disappointing. And there are reasons to wonder whether law enforcement officials, and Charlie Baker’s administration, have been implementing and enforcing the provisions as aggressively as they could. 

Lack of follow-through 

The long-term effects might not materialize if officials, seeing no clear short-term payoff, don’t bother implementing and enforcing the provisions. 

The EOPSS report, though it is supposed to assess the effectiveness of the 2014 law, does not contain any information on whether law enforcement is using the tools they’ve been given by the new statutes.  

That includes newly defined crimes for shooting at people, and harsher potential penalties for a variety of gun-related transgressions. The report gives no indication of whether police, prosecutors, and courts are availing themselves of those tools. 

There are also new penalties for failing to safely secure firearms, failing to properly report the private sale or transfer of a firearm, and failing to report a lost or stolen gun. The Boston Police Department even sent out a letter to gun owners in 2015, signed by Mayor Marty Walsh and Commissioner William Evans, informing them of the importance of following these new procedures and the threat of prosecution for not doing so. 

The new EOPSS report gives no indication, however, that law enforcement is making good on that threat. Neither does a report completed last October, from Northeastern University, assessing the implementation of the 2014 law. 

My own conversations with people in DA’s offices suggests that few charges, if any, are being brought for failing to comply with those requirements. 

There is also considerable question about the implementation of the 2014 law’s mandates regarding school safety plans—a topic of great public concern, though Massachusetts has been fortunate to have avoided large-casualty school shootings to date. The creation of a Safe and Supportive Schools Commission ( was a significant part of the law, which was spurred in large part by the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. 

That commission has certainly made progress, but the Northeastern report is ambiguous about its success. The commission is currently three months late with its mandated 2017 annual report, making assessment even more difficult. 

The law also created a task force, led by the EOPSS Secretary, to create a report on “suitable and feasible options for the safekeeping of a distressed person’s firearms.” Such so-called “red-flag laws,” to take guns from someone deemed a danger to themselves and others, are another hot topic these days, with Massachusetts lawmakers—like those elsewhere—considering them in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, killings. 

But it does not appear that the report, mandated to be submitted by mid-2015, was ever produced. Months after it was due, EOPSS Secretary Daniel Bennett sent a letter to the legislature saying that the task force was about to start working on the project; two years later, the Northeastern report said that the task force “is expected to release its report this fall [2017].” Neither the senate or house clerks, nor EOPPS, was able to locate the report for me, if there was one. 

The new report, along with the Northeastern report, show that an already relatively safe state is now doing more. It’s far from clear, however, that it is doing enough.