By Phil Demers, North Adams Transcript
Tuesday July 16, 2013
NORTH ADAMS — A statewide Legislative listening tour hit the city Monday, as state representatives Gailanne Cariddi and Paul Mark hosted state Rep. Harold Naughton for a discussion on gun violence and state law at the American Legion.
Naughton, the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, perhaps knowing his audience consisted mostly of second amendment advocates, made no bones about his topic.
“We know it’s a controversial issue, one that evokes strong feelings on both sides,” he said.
Naughton called gun control a “broad-based issue” that makes gun owners “very nervous, very quickly when we start talking about it in this way.”
“I don’t want any of the 6 million people in the commonwealth to feel they didn’t have a voice in the discussion,” he said. “… No one wants to impinge upon the second amendment rights of gun owners.”
Since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in Dec. 2012, 65 pieces of legislation have been introduced by lawmakers in the State House, Naughton said.
“We’re trying to boil down those 65 pieces of legislation into a comprehensible bill,” he said.
Most among the roughly 20 people who attended made the case that new state gun laws will only affect lawful gun owners, not those whom the laws would be designed to foil.
They said violent crimes involving firearms have spiked since passage of the 1998 Massachusetts Gun Control Act — then the toughest in the land — and argued instead for reform and simplification of existing laws and crackdowns on illegal gun trafficking.
“I would bet that no one single person knows [the existing gun] laws through and through in the intent they were meant to be utilized,” said Tom Decker, owner of Pete’s Gun Shop in Adams.
Decker added that the 1998 law was “usurped” by former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger and made more strict.
“I can’t sell many of the guns in my shop,” he said. “I could spend three hours a day explaining to people why we can’t sell them a particular gun.”
Decker and many others said the state infrastructure of how it deals with the mentally ill ought to be bolstered. Dan Bergeron, an employee of the sheriff’s department who works at Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction, expressed frustration on the matter.
“We have inmates down there that don’t need to be in jail,” he said. “They need to be somewhere else.”
Attendees also said that some existing laws need to be better enforced.
A mandatory year sentence in prison for unlawful possession of a firearm was most frequently cited here. Decker said cases are often not pursued or lightened.
“Plea bargaining down sends the wrong message to those that we really want the law to be aimed at,” Decker said.
For his part, Naughton said groups like the state’s Gun Owners’ Action League and Stop Handgun Violence ought to be working hand-in-hand on these issues, along with state lawmakers.
He said state representatives David Linsky and George Peterson are the paramount examples of each end of the argument — for gun control and second amendment rights, respectively — inside the State House.
“I’m wondering if I couldn’t just lock them in a room and end this whole process, then maybe I could go enjoy my summer,” Naughton joked.
Similar discussions on the topic have been held throughout the commonwealth. Meetings in Cape Cod and Worcester each ran over six hours, Naughton said. An additional meeting is scheduled on Aug. 2, in Springfield, and the committee hopes to wrap up its work after Labor Day weekend.
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