By Scott Malone
BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick introduced a new series of gun laws on Wednesday that would tighten rules on sales of weapons and ammunition, in the wake of last month's deadly school shooting in neighboring Connecticut.
Patrick made the announcement a day after New York state adopted one of the toughest gun-control laws in the United States and shortly before President Barack Obama proposed a new national assault-weapons ban and strengthened background checks on prospective gun buyers.
"In the wake of too many tragedies, I have filed legislation to tackle the problem of gun violence and illegal firearm possession," Patrick, a Democrat, said in a statement.
He also proposed an increase in funding to the state's mental health programs aimed at reducing violence, in the wake of last month's mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 28 people dead including 20 first graders.
The proposed Massachusetts legislation would require gun buyers to undergo background checks even when they made purchases at gun shows, limit buyers to purchasing one gun per month and reduce access to high-powered ammunition.
It would also require state courts to share relevant mental health records with state and criminal databases used to conduct background checks on potential gun buyers.
Patrick did not propose changing Massachusetts' assault-weapons ban, in place since 1998, which prohibits clips that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition. New York strengthened its ban on assault weapons and cut clip size to seven rounds.
The Newtown killings prompted some Americans, including officials in California, Maryland and Delaware, to call for tighter restrictions on weapons, a move that the National Rifle Association and its supporters have strongly opposed.
But some state officials - including Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut - said they are limited in their ability to tackle the problem of gun violence on their own.
"States can't go it alone. We need leadership at the federal level," Malloy said in his official Twitter feed.
Even in Massachusetts, where Democrats control the state house, the push could face an uphill political battle.
Governors may have an easier time requiring their states to keep better mental health records than closing the gun-show loophole, said David King, a senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
"That is probably something that the federal government has to weigh in on," he said. Obama on Wednesday said he would call on Congress to close the gun-show loopholes. The loophole exempts buyers of weapons at guns shows from anyone other than a licensed dealer to avoid a background check.
Before the December attack only California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Maryland, plus the District of Columbia, had some form of ban on assault weapons.
Patrick said his budget proposal will include $5 million in new funding for state mental health programs aimed at training school staff on how to recognize symptoms of mental illness in students and to better train police officers to handle people with mental illness in crisis situations.
Gun advocates said they would rather see Patrick focus on mental health than further restricting gun ownership.
"How do you justify any more restrictions on lawfully licensed gun owners than we already face?" said James Wallace, executive director of the Massachusetts Gun Owners' Action League. Wallace noted that the rate of gun injuries reported in the state since 1998 has risen despite the laws.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch, Grant McCool, David Gregorio and Greg McCune)