PATRICK TAGS GUN LOBBY WITH LACK OF PROGRESS ON GUN BILL
By Jim O’Sullivan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 10, 2010…... Gov. Deval Patrick blamed firearms lobbyists Monday for his gun control legislation’s lack of progress amid another murder of a child over the weekend, drawing a quick rebuke from the Gun Owners Action League, who called Patrick’s bill flawed and ineffective.
Hours after speaking with the mother of Jaewon Martin, the 14-year-old murdered on a Boston basketball court Saturday, Patrick told reporters, “Look, there’s a lot of volume that the gun lobby has in this building, but it seems to me that people in neighborhoods, those mothers that are losing their children on the streets of our cities, the law enforcement who are having to deal with the proliferation of illegal firearms out there, used in the course of crime – those voices need to be raised, and those voices are greater in number, and I think at the end of the day greater in significance than the gun lobby.”
The state’s top firearms policy group said Patrick had mischaracterized lobbyists’ work.
James Wallace, executive director of GOAL, replied, “My first question is: Who’s the gun lobby? … I don’t lobby for guns, I lobby for people. That’s one of the tools they use to dehumanize us. We lobby for . . . civil rights and public safety.”
Patrick’s bill, stuck in the Judiciary Committee, would restrict lawful gun owners to one purchase per month and prohibit machine gun possession for anyone but law enforcement or the particular weapon’s licensed owner.
The measure also makes it a felony to possess guns while committing some crimes that would otherwise be misdemeanors. Patrick would also establish “dangerousness hearings” for gun crimes, allowing prosecutors to seek no-bail rulings from judges in dangerous criminal trials. A similar provision was included in the Senate’s crime bill.
The proposal has seen little traction on Beacon Hill, although recent decisions have demonstrated that current events can drive policy.
After a meeting Monday among Patrick, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, a spokesman for DeLeo, Seth Gitell, said, “In light of recent events, he’s certainly reaching out to the appropriate chairs to get feedback and is taking a look at it.”
Some lawmakers say Patrick’s purchase limit would unfairly target safe and responsible gun users.
“Crackheads and people that are trading weapons for drugs and eliciting violent behavior, they don’t really give a darn about whatever law is on the books, and I wish people would understand that,” said Sen. Stephen Brewer, the Barre Democrat and vice chair of the Senate budget committee. “I would much rather [Patrick] put his efforts into the OxyContin epidemic.”
The bill, Brewer said, “really only penalizes a lot of good people in my district.”
Patrick gubernatorial rival Independent Treasurer Timothy Cahill in a statement extended sympathy to Martin’s family.
Cahill said, “I applaud the Governor’s efforts in trying to make our streets safer however, his bill does not address the root of the problem. Instead, the bill penalizes law abiding citizens and limits their access to guns instead of punishing those that carry guns illegally.”
Cahill said, “[O]ur focus should be on increasing the penalties of those caught with an illegal firearm and not punishing those that exercise their [Second Amendment] rights safely and legally.”
Earlier in the day, Patrick said he had spoken with Vernia Nicole Martin, mother of 14-year-old Jaewon.
“What I said to her is something I think we’re all feeling,” Patrick said. “It’s not the order of things that you bury your own child. That a child who is doing right and is playing on the streets would be the victim of a random gunshot is not acceptable."
“We’ve got to stop running away from doing the right thing just because it’s controversial,” Patrick told reporters. “Sometimes that’s the way it’s going to be. What we have proposed is very reasonable. It’s not talking about taking away anybody’s legally purchased gun. It is about limiting the number of guns to one gun a month. I mean, that’s 12 guns a year. For most people, that’s fine.”
Patrick said the death “underscores the importance of getting action.”
Noting that some firearm measures had accompanied the Senate-passed crime bill, Patrick said, “These are not radical ideas, they’re very sensible ideas, and they don’t deprive people of any rights, but they do regulate an inherently dangerous thing.”
Wallace called Patrick’s legislation “more of the same,” saying, “Basically, it lays the blame for crime at the feet of lawful gun owners.”
Pointing to a Patrick press release that accompanied last year’s bill-filing touting the limits on per-month purchases, Wallace said, “Really? So the lawfully licensed citizens of Massachusetts are responsible for the supply of illegal guns? Can he give me a single case?”
Public Safety Secretary MaryBeth Heffernan said 37 percent of guns used illegally in Massachusetts can be traced back to legal purchases.
“There’s a whole network here that we can’t keep track of appropriately,” she said.
Patrick said some elements of his gun control plan were embedded in the crime package the Senate passed last November. That bill, which DeLeo said the House plans to address in some form shortly, tightens rules around employer access to criminal records, requires more stringent post-release supervision for ex-cons, and relaxes sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
Brewer noted that “not that many bills get out of Judiciary” and said Patrick’s proposal does not “[solve] the problem that we all want to solve, and that is gun violence in the streets. It is about the dope. I do not believe that this gets to the root cause of the problems in our cities.”
“It only took Lee Harvey Oswald one gun. It only took Sirhan Sirhan one gun. It only took James Earl Ray one gun. So I don’t buy that. Law-abiding citizens aren’t the issue here,” Brewer said.
He added, “Give me a kid who’s got a hunter safety [license] and for hunting and fishing, and I give you a kid who’s not downtown doing crack cocaine. It’s true in my district.”
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