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Gun Rights Group Leader Speaks At MCLA

The head of Gun Owners of America spoke in favor of gun rights and on-campus carrying policies at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams Thursday night. The idea is being rejected by campus officials.

Despite talks of a protest against the firearm lobbying group, one never materialized. Police lined the halls of the Feigenbaum Center on campus to keep the peace according to organizer Kaitlin Wright, chair of the MCLA chapter of the College Republicans.  

“We have faced our fair share of controversy and backlash from campus. We struggled to get approved as a club,” Wright says. “We faced a lot of harassment.”

Wright says it was an opportunity to have an open dialogue about guns and gun safety on campus.

According to a state report, 1 in 10 Massachusetts residents is licensed to carry a concealed firearm. Nearby Peru, where 30 percent of the population is licensed to carry, has the highest rate per capita in the state. Florida, Tyringham and Savoy are ranked 5th, 6th and 7th, respectively.

Executive Director Emeritus Larry Pratt says Gun Owners of America has 1.5 million members.

“Since the bad guys carry firearms anyway, concealed generally, why would we want to give an advantage to the bad guys?” Pratt says.

Pratt is a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He was forced to resign from his role as co-chair of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign in 1996 for allegedly meeting with militia leaders and white supremacists.

Now Pratt heads the firearm lobbying group providing legal assistance to gun rights advocates. He says just about anybody should be able to get a gun.

“The background check we are told is a ‘Well you don’t want to give a gun to a bad guy, do you?’” Pratt says. “A bad guy that knows he’s a bad guy is not likely to go into a store is not go into a store, and say ‘Aw shucks, I didn’t realize you guys would find out about my criminal record.’ So they get their guns another way.”

Pratt alleges only a fraction of background checks actually lead to the prosecution of felons seeking to obtain a firearm.

“Background checks a waste of money,” Pratt says. “It’s not snagging bag guys. It’s not intimidating bad guys.”

Pratty says 15 states don’t require a permit of any kind to carry a weapon.

“You’re next door to Vermont, and they have had this kind of law since the 1930s. Now, have you all been intimidated by street gangs coming over from Vermont tearing up the town?” Pratt says. “I don’t think so.”

For its part, MCLA says it does not allow any weapons on campus.

State Representative David Linsky of Natick, who often spearheads issues related to gun control, says state gun laws are some of the strictest in the country.

“It would be against the law in Massachusetts for someone who is not a police officer to carry a firearm on school grounds,” Linsky says.

Breaking that law is punishable with a $1,000 fine and/or up to 2 years in prison. 

But Pratt says…

“Anybody that has a concealed carry permit, or in those states where you have to put it, who’s legally able to have a concealed firearm should be able to do so on campus,” Pratt says. “If that student should have one in his apartment, why shouldn’t he have one at school?”

Republican State Representative candidate Christine Canning was there with her 16-year-old daughter. She says they both have firearms identification cards. 

Canning says she supports gun safety education at all levels.

“I have taught on college campuses since 1993. I don’t see the need of why people in school need guns,” Canning says. “And I think by the time you go through the training and you do the holding, if you can’t pass all of that than you have no business holding one in the first place.”

“It would be completely irresponsible and it certainly would not serve any educational purpose to allow carrying of firearms on college campuses.” Linksy says.

The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence told WAMC Friday “this type of legislation is a new twist on the gun lobby's vision of "guns everywhere, for everyone", and would create new dangers and put additional burdens on schools … to ensure safety.” Again, College Republican Wright.

“Do I think that maybe professors and other faculty members should – like not everyone, but certain faculty members and obviously it would not be announced to the public about who it was – do I think they should be able to carry firearms, yes. Students, no,” Wright says. “Students are here to study and not worry about things like that.”

Pratt points to gun reform efforts that typically follow mass shootings, including the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Federal legislation failed soon after. Pratt says that’s because it’s better for people to be able to protect themselves.

“One, two, maybe more people pull out a piece and take care of the bad guy,” Pratt says. “Situation’s all over. The mass murder has been avoided, and that was that.”

Massachusetts lawmakers have agreed on language sponsored by Representative Linsky that calls for a ban on “bump stocks,” which can increase the firing rate of a weapon, after October’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Republican Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Friday signed into law the appropriations bill that included a prohibition on the devices. Gov. Charlie Baker is on vacation outside the state, but had expressed his support for banning bump stocks in the days after the worst mass shooting in modern American history on October 1.

The Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, had called on Baker to veto the ban. Among other objections, the group said the potential penalties were too harsh.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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