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Mass. Committee Holds Gun Control Hearing, Coalition Wants Stricter Laws

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A Massachusetts committee is holding a hearing to look at proposed gun control legislation on Beacon Hill today, but people outside the statehouse want to be heard as well.

Mark Barden of Newtown, Connecticut was among those calling for effective gun control laws outside the statehouse Friday morning prior to a hearing of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

“My son Daniel was seven and he was in first grade," Barden said. "He was one of 20 first graders that were shot to death in their classrooms, along with six educators on December 14."

More than 60 gun-related bills were filed in the Massachusetts State Legislature this session. Democratic State Representative Harold Naughton of Clinton is the committee’s co-chair. He spoke with WAMC News in May.

“Looking at mental health aspects, the criminally mentally ill, licensing aspects, and all different levels of criminal violence that are plaguing the Commonwealth,” said Naughton.

New York and Connecticut have already enacted gun laws in response to the events at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“I’ve never been a big believer in legislation by headline or conducting debate while your blood pressure is still boiling,” Naughton said. “I think it’s much more appropriate to do this in a calm, deliberate and thoughtful atmosphere to take some time and survey the best practices from Connecticut, from New York, and what’s done in other states. I think we’re doing it just right here in Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts Democratic State Representative David Linsky of the 5th Middlesex District filed legislation containing 25 provisions regarding gun control earlier this year. Here’s what he told WAMC News in January.

“It would require that so-called large capacity weapons or assault weapons, if they’re legally owned, to be stored at the shooting range, gun club, or target range rather than at somebody’s house,” Linsky said. “It would require people to first sign a waiver of their mental health records and disclose the names and addresses of any mental health providers that they’ve had. If you fail to do that, it would actually be a crime. It would be a ten-year felony.”

The state’s current gun laws are already considered among the toughest in the nation. Governor Deval Patrick testified before the committee regarding his proposed legislation that would restrict access to high-powered rounds of ammunition, create four new types of gun crimes, and require background checks for buyers at gun shows. Democratic State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox is also sponsoring a bill to set up voluntary firearm turn-in programs.

“After the tragedy in Newtown, CT, I had people in my district who had been life-long gun owners who wanted to just get rid of their guns,” Pignatelli said. “And where do you go? There is no program in place right now that would allow anybody to voluntarily turn in a gun and make sure it was disposed of properly.”

Barden, along with Nicole Hockley, who lost her son Dylan at Sandy Hook, joined members of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, made up of more than 30 organizations from across the state.

“It’s essential that we recognize this as the public health issue that it is,” said the coalition’s Barbara Gutman. “We’re not trying to tread on anybody's constitutional rights.”

Barden says none of the proposed legislation will prevent a law-abiding citizen from bearing arms.

“There’s nothing in their legislation or that we talked about that denies them their right to bear arms,” Barden said. “There’s nothing in there that says you can’t bear arms. There’s no argument there, it doesn’t come up. I mean which one of those items denies a responsible gun owner from owning a gun?”

Not all of the bills would restrict access to guns. One would repeal the state’s ban on assault weapons while another would prohibit the confiscation of any lawfully possessed firearm during a state of emergency. Friday’s hearing follows a series of public meetings held by lawmakers across the state earlier this year.

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