By Matt Murphy and Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- The state's largest gun owners group released a critique Tuesday of a task force's recommendations to reduce gun violence, concluding that experts appointed by Speaker Robert DeLeo, who characterized the state's gun laws as among the strongest in the nation, failed to recognize the inability of those laws to stem the rising tide of gun violence even amid a decline in the number of licensed gun owners.
"The report delivered last week fails to recognize the failure of Massachusetts gun laws to reduce crime or respect the rights of lawful citizens," Jim Wallace, Executive Director of GOAL, said in a statement accompanying a new report. "Since 1998, gun violence in the Commonwealth has increased over 200%. If you fail to recognize the symptoms of the failure of the Massachusetts gun law, you cannot properly recommend a legislative cure."
The report describes the state's gun laws as "convoluted and confusing" and says the task force relied upon "flawed testimony that attempts to paint the Commonwealth's laws in a positive light."
GOAL supports some recommendations by the task force, according to the report, including no further restrictions on magazine capacity, a streamlining of the license renewal process and the elimination of Class B licenses, which allow people to carry non-concealed non-high-capacity weapons but are seldom sought in Massachusetts.
The group opposes the new "suitability" standard that the task force recommended that would allow police chief to determine whether applicants for gun licenses and firearm identification cards are suitable to own a weapon.
"It has always been GOAL's contention that the "suitability" clause is unconstitutional as it stands. There should never be an instance where citizens should have to prove their suitability or need to exercise a civil right. As such, the suitability clause should be stricken as a whole," the report states.
Rep. David Linsky, a Natick Democratic and author of legislation to overhaul the state's gun laws, said there is a need to enact tougher laws, not relax the ones already in place.
"Massachusetts has now fallen behind several other states in terms of tougher gun violence prevention laws," Linsky said. "What the task force did was eminently reasonable. They proposed 44 common sense recommendations and the Gun Owners Action League showed their true colors in opposing such items as mandatory live fire as part of the training, which I analogize to driver training with only the classroom portion and without on the road training."
Linsky criticized GOAL's recommendation that instead of using school resource officers to better protect schools Massachusetts should allow lawful gun owners to carry weapons on school property and to school events, and that some felons should be allowed to receive a firearm license. GOAL opposes the "mandatory" arming of teachers.
"Those ideas are so far outside the mainstream. They parroted the National Rifle Association's national policies and showed that they are extremists in today's report," Linsky said.
GOAL said it is willing to work with the Legislature to more clearly define suitability to own a gun. The gun-owners' rights group said it support the state's efforts to reduce gun violence, but said that goal could be more effectively achieved through legislation pending before the Joint Committee on Public Safety (H 3264) that also respects the rights of lawful gun owners.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo has not put a definitive timetable on legislation he hopes to propose that will incorporate some, if not all, of the recommendations put forward by the task force, but has said he hopes to do it soon enough to allow time to negotiate with the Senate and finalize a bill before the Legislature recesses in July.
GOAL called the proposal to require that all private gun sales go through a licensed dealer a solution to a problem that doesn't exist because in Massachusetts background checks are already required for all sales. The group also said it opposes preventing convicting felons of receiving an FID card, suggesting the proposal should be modified to allow non-violent felons to receive a permit.
"It is also important to recognize there is no such thing as a 'gun show loophole' in the Commonwealth. Licensed retailers at gun shows in Massachusetts are required to follow the same procedures that take part in their places of business," the GOAL report said. "For the majority of the gun shows in Massachusetts, both the Executive Office of Public Safety and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives have a public presence to assist retailers and customers."
GOAL also took issue with a number of sections in the task force report it said were unclear and needed to be rewritten, and a called for a discussion as to why current gun trafficking laws have been unsuccessful in taking illegal guns off the street.
The legislation supported by GOAL, and filed by Republican Rep. George Peterson, of Grafton, calls for giving tax incentives for the purchase of equipment to safely store firearms, and the creation of a special unit of the State Police to assist the Attorney General in investigating and prosecuting firearm crimes and maintaining a database of all firearms used to commit crimes in Massachusetts.