Study Shows Massachusetts Gun Law Has Little Effect on Crime After Year

The mandatory one-year-in-jail Massachusetts gun law has had little effect upon the state's violent crime rate, according to a report released Wednesday by James Vorenberg, professor of Law and director of the Law School's Center for Criminal Justice.

The study also concluded that:

Compliance with licensing laws increased dramatically in the initial period after the law was passed when publicity was intense;

The law has not resulted in a decrease in the use of guns in premeditated crimes like armed robbery;

Early apprehensions that police, prosecutors and judges would be overly lenient with first time offenders appear to have been unfounded;


While there has been no decrease in the rate of gun-related crimes, like assaults, there has been a shift in the type of weapon used in such assaults.

Bartley-Fox Passed in '75

The state legislature passed the Bartley-Fox Law, as it is known, in April 1975, with the intent that it be used in the prosecution of gun-related crimes. But James Beha, who directed the project for the center, said yesterday that the law was only used in one-quarter of all gun-related prosecutions in the past year and attributed this to the strictness of the Massachusetts firearm regulations.

"The evidence available in most prosecutions for firearms crime simply cannot measure up to the rigid evidentiary requirements of the firearm licensing laws," Beha said. "The result is that Bartley-Fox charges can be successfully included in only a fraction of the prosecutions for crimes committed with a gun," he added.

More Appeals Now

Beha said that the mandatory sentencing law has increased the proportion of gun-possession cases that are appealed to superior courts. Before the law was passed, 20 per cent of such cases were appealed from the lower courts; now that figure is between 40 and 50 per cent.

The Bartley-Fox law is unique in that most mandatory sentencing laws are addressed to serious crimes, like rape, murder and armed robbery.

Only Maryland has legislation similarly directed towards gun possession, but that state's statute applies solely to second-time offenders.