BOSTON (AP) - Gov. Deval Patrick is renewing pressure on state lawmakers to pass a bill he said would place further restrictions on access to guns in the wake of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Patrick's bill, which he initially filed several years ago, would restrict licensed gun owners to purchasing one firearm a month. The bill would also clamp down on so-called "straw purchasers" who buy guns legally and then resell them to convicted felons and others barred from owning guns.
Patrick told reporters Monday that if lawmakers don't take action before the end of the current session, he expects to file a similar bill in the new legislative session that begins in January.
"I expect and hope there will be more support in the coming session than we have had in the past," Patrick said. "It's a shame that it takes a tragedy like Newtown for that to happen."
The state's top legislative leaders signaled Monday that they hoped to take action on the bill during the coming two-year session.
Patrick said the issue of gun legislation came up during his regular Monday afternoon leadership meeting with Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
Murray also cited the shooting deaths of 20 school children and six teachers and school administrators as a renewed incentive to take action. She said "initial discussions" have begun with Patrick and DeLeo on the legislation.
"Something needs to be done in light of what occurred in Newtown last week and we will hopefully be able to work together on moving something in the new session," Murray, D-Plymouth, said in a statement.
A spokesman for DeLeo also pledged action, saying the Winthrop Democrat was "deeply shaken by the Newtown, CT massacre and similar tragic incidents that have become too common in recent years."
"He plans to hold a serious conversation on potential legislative solutions, including Gov. Patrick's gun bill, in the next session," an aide to DeLeo said in a statement.
Massachusetts already has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. In 1998, then Gov. Paul Cellucci signed a bill banning gun dealers from selling cheap, poorly-made guns known as "Saturday night specials."
That 1998 law also prohibited the possession or sale of so-called assault weapons made after September 1994, banned mail order gun sales, and required prospective gun owners to undergo firearms training while subjecting all gun owners to more frequent licensing and higher licensing fees.
In 2005, former Gov. Mitt Romney signed a bill extending the ban on the sale or import of military-style semiautomatic weapons, which had been tied to a federal ban that was set to expire.
Besides limiting gun purchases to one a month and going after straw purchasers of guns, Patrick's bill would also enroll Massachusetts in a national mental health registry for firearm background checks and tighten laws governing who may handle machine guns, including those fired at gun clubs and shooting ranges.
In 2010, 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj, of Ashford, Conn., accidentally shot and killed himself when he lost control of a 9mm micro submachine gun as it recoiled while he was firing at a pumpkin at the Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman's Club.
Gun rights activists have opposed Patrick's bill, saying it would punish law-abiding gun owners. They argue there should be no limit on the number of guns that licensed owners can purchase.
Instead of writing ever-tougher licensing requirements, activists say, state and law enforcement officials should focus on cracking down on hardcore criminals.
Patrick said he's willing to work with gun-rights advocates.
"I think everybody believes, a lot of us do, that there must be some kind of balance that can be struck between the interests of sportsmen and hunters, and the need to keep automatic weapons ... off the street," Patrick said.