Newtown parents make appeals to Mass. lawmakers
BOSTON (AP) -- Lawmakers studying dozens of changes proposed to Massachusetts' gun laws in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., said they hoped to craft a single comprehensive bill that balanced the desire to reduce gun violence with the rights of legitimate gun owners.
The Legislature's Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security held the fifth and final in a series of statewide public hearings Friday, drawing hundreds of people to the Statehouse.
"If there is more that we can do to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them, convicted criminals or those whose mental illness endangers others or themselves, it's just common sense to take those steps," said Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was among the 20 children who died along with six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December.
"These laws have no real impact on the vast majority of gun owners and purchasers who are responsible, law-abiding citizens," added Hockley, who testified before the committee along with another Newtown parent, Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son, Daniel, was also killed in the massacre.
Hockley said she wanted to spare Massachusetts families the "unimaginable heartache and pain" that she has suffered.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick were among the public officials who urged the panel to bring Massachusetts into compliance with a federal law passed after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that would allow the state to transmit relevant mental health records to a federal database used in background checks of prospective gun buyers.
A bill filed by Patrick in January also called for increased penalties for people with multiple convictions for possessing illegal firearms; restricting gun owners to purchasing one firearm a month; and clamping down on so-called "straw purchasers" who buy guns legally and then resell them to convicted felons and others barred from owning guns.
"This is not about taking away anybody's rights. This is about affirming everybody's right to live in safety without fear of violence," Patrick said.
While Massachusetts already has some of the nation's most stringent gun laws, critics said the state's approach has failed to stem gun violence.
Jim Wallace, president of The Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, warned against frivolous new laws that would fail to crack down on criminals who use guns illegally, while penalizing responsible owners.
"The fact that the government is still looking at us as a potential cause of violence is without a doubt one of the biggest slaps in the face that we lawful gun owners could ever take," said Wallace.
The purchase of a handgun in Massachusetts already involves a 33-step process, Wallace said, including background checks, paperwork, and a review by the local police chief.
Wallace's group, along with the National Shooting Sports Foundation -- a group that represents the interests of hunters -- signaled support for the sharing by the state of mental health records of individuals deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.