By Andy Metzger

State House News Service

BOSTON -- A legislative panel mulling changes to gun laws faced a raft of proposals and a sharply divided audience at the Statehouse on Friday.

State Rep. Gloria Fox led a standing ovation for Gov. Deval Patrick as he approached the table to testify before the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

However, the governor was later derided with chortles from many in the crowd when he said, "This is not about taking away anybody's rights."

"This is about affirming everybody's right to live in safety and without fear of violence," continued Patrick, his volume rising.

Patrick wants to allow the state to provide mental-health information to a federal criminal background-check database, to increase penalties for illegal possession of a firearm, and to limit gun purchases to one per month while requiring private gun transactions to take place at an authorized dealer.

State Rep. George Peterson, who said the state should "streamline" gun licensing, won loud approval from the audience when he questioned the long process for his own license renewal, which he said may cut into his ability to hunt this year.

"I'm going to pay the penalty of a state that cannot get its job done," said the Grafton Republican, turning in his seat and chastising those who cheered loudly.


"Listen, guys, you do not help yourself with that kind of outburst, so I'm asking you to please respect my testimony as well as everybody else here."

Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley asked the committee, led by House Chairman Harold Naughton and Senate Chairman James Timilty, to pass legislation that would increase the penalty for anyone who knowingly fails to report their gun has been lost or stolen from $200 to a 2 1/2-year sentence, and require insurance for gun owners to cover accidental or unlawful injuries caused by their guns. He said the bill addresses the secondary gun market and does not create new criminal statutes.

"I would like to first put to rest this notion that if we make it harder for violent offenders to get their hands on guns; they'll simply use some other implement," said Conley, who said homicide is the leading cause of death for Bay Staters ages 15-24. "Every household has a kitchen knife, but during the past 11 years, 27 children age 16 or under have been killed in Boston by illegal firearms, not kitchen knives. That's an entire classroom of children lost not simply to violence, but to gun violence."

"While I continue to fight at the federal level to address these serious flaws in our gun laws, our neighborhoods cannot wait for federal action," said Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who helped found Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "This committee and this Legislature can create a safer commonwealth today."

The hearing was the last of five hearings on gun bills held around the state, as a separate task force appointed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo in the wake of the mass murder last December in Newtown, Conn., conducts a concurrent review of state gun laws.

Mark Barden, whose son was among the 26 Sandy Hook Elementary School children killed by a lone gunman with an AR-15 rifle, said advocating for measures to prevent gun violence, accidents and suicide has become his life's work.

"This summer has been long and hard. The children were home from school, and Daniel's absence was profound," Barden told the committee. He said Massachusetts lawmakers "have done a good job" and the state should build on its already strong gun laws.

After their testimony, Barden and Newtown mother Nicole Hockley, of Newtown Promise, met with Kim Odom, a Boston mother who has advocated for new gun controls in the wake of her son's death.

The Gun Owner's Action League and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which has its headquarters in Newtown, have both argued in favor of some proposals and against others.

"Working with the firearms industry to address common-sense goals should be the most important thing. Our industry has contributed over $1.6 billion in economic activity in Massachusetts in 2012, employs over 3,200 people in the state and generates an additional 4,700 jobs in supplier industries," said Jake McGuigan, of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, at a previous hearing in Worcester, according to a copy of his written remarks.

The NSSF supports adding more data from states into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

GOAL, which claims gun laws passed in 1998 have proven "highly ineffectual," supports a comprehensive bill that would create a Criminal Firearms and Trafficking Division within the State Police and impose a five- to 10-year sentence on anyone who illegally transports firearms into the state for criminal activity.

According to written commentary from GOAL, gun-related homicides doubled in Massachusetts between 1998 and 2010 and gun-related assaults have tripled.

State Rep. David Linsky, who has a sweeping firearms proposal, said gun-license applicants should state the reason they want a license and should be required to pass a training course that includes actual handling and firing of a gun.

Both sides of the gun argument held rallies ahead of the hearing, with gun-rights supporters holding signs on Beacon Street and the Newtown parents gathering with lawmakers in front of the House chamber.

Committee member Nick Boldyga received a round of applause from the gun-rights crowd when he quizzed Undersecretary for Homeland Security and Emergency Management Curt Wood on what Wood said is lack of oversight in reporting private gun sales.

"It's not, in fact, a loophole," Boldyga said. "If they don't fill out the paperwork, they're breaking the law."

Wood said the "process" means the state has to rely on the parties in a private gun sale to "self-report."

John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence, said the Bay State's gun laws have helped make it second only to Hawaii in the lowest number of per capita firearm fatalities, and backed legislation that would restrict the use of ammunition feeding devices carrying more than seven rounds.

Rosenthal, who said he is a gun owner and a "firm believer" in the Second Amendment, received a mix of boos and applause when he questioned the policy of placing a cap of three-rounds for duck hunters to protect the duck population, while making larger capacity weapons available to "terrorists."

The developer and anti-gun violence advocate also said state law needs to be updated to ban "copycat" versions of banned weapons.

Naughton previously told the News Service that the comprehensive legislation that his committee plans to draft will likely not include new bans on firearm equipment.

"A lot of the technical aspects of how a firearm is constructed are already in the law as it is, so no, I don't see any change in the clip size, up or down," Naughton said.