Massachusetts gun control debate draws both sides
BOSTON (AP) — Opponents of a sweeping gun control bill are pushing back on Beacon Hill, saying the Democratic-backed measure stigmatizes gun owners and won’t help reduce crime.
State Rep. George Peterson told a legislative panel Tuesday that while he supports parts of the bill unveiled last week by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, other elements chip away at Second Amendment rights.
The Grafton Republican and gun owner was particularly critical of a portion of the bill that would for the first time give local police chiefs the ability to deny a license for rifles or shotguns based on so-called “suitability standards.”
Peterson said chiefs should be required to state in writing why a license was denied and prospective gun owners should be able to appeal.
“A lot of chiefs just refuse to issue licenses because they don’t want their constituents to have guns,” Peterson said. “I want a standard that is defined in the law.”
Peterson said he backs tougher penalties when firearms are used in crimes, but said tighter control of legal firearms doesn’t translate into safer streets and less violence. He made his comments at a packed Statehouse hearing before the Committee on Public Safety.
Supporters of the bill — prompted by the December 2012 school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut — also crowded the hearing room.
Attorney General Martha Coakley said the bill “recognizes the critical intersection between gun violence, suicide prevention, mental health care, domestic violence and school safety.”
Coakley also praised the bill for closing the “gun show loophole,” which she said has allowed people to purchase a firearm without the necessary checks, and for requiring all gun sales to go through a dealer.
Grossman applauded portions of the legislation that seek to curb the use of firearms in suicides.
The bill would require schools to hire resource officers to develop responses to mental health needs of public school students, and provide suicide awareness and prevention training to teachers and other school personnel at least once every three years.
“We must not forget how much of this tragic loss of life through suicide can be better prevented through better access to treatment as well as stronger gun safety laws and regulations,” Grossman said.
Coakley and Grossman are both running for the Democratic nomination for governor this year.
Gun rights activists say the bill should focus more on keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill rather than targeting gun owners.
“Gun violence must be stopped, but placing restrictions on lawful citizens is not the answer,” said Jim Wallace, head of the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League.
The bill would also extend federal restrictions for firearm acquisition to the state level, require background checks for all private gun sales, and require Massachusetts to join a national instant criminal background database that would include mental health information.
DeLeo has said he expects final passage of the bill by the July 31 end of the legislative session.