By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- A task force report recommending 44 ways to lessen gun violence in Massachusetts drew a mixed reaction from the gun owners lobby and the enthusiastic endorsement of a gun control group.
"I think that the committee's 44 unanimous recommendations are thoughtful and balanced, and I am most pleased," said Stop Handgun Violence founder John Rosenthal, who noted he is a gun owner.
Gun Owners Action League greeted the report with general consternation, though Executive Director Jim Wallace found some satisfaction in the recommendation to do away with Class B licenses, which allow people to carry unconcealed handguns and are much less popular than concealed carry permits.
"The Class B issue is something we're very happy with. Get rid of that because that's very confusing," said Wallace, who was disappointed overall and said GOAL was "all but left out of the process."
"The report is an important step in helping us find ways to make Massachusetts a safer place for our children and families," said Speaker Robert DeLeo, who appointed the eight people on the task force. "I look forward to reviewing their recommendations as we craft gun violence legislation along with the Committee on Public Safety."
DeLeo said Monday afternoon that he had not seen the report. "I'm presuming that the report as asked for is extremely thorough and will give us a lot to mull over as we file the legislation," DeLeo told reporters.
While gun law changes have fared poorly in Massachusetts in recent years, DeLeo said the anticipated legislation will "have probably a little bit more momentum" than in previous sessions and said the task force's appointment reflected his level of seriousness about the issue.
"I think the members, both pro and con, are ready for it," DeLeo said. "I think that it will be taken up in due time. I think this will be the year."
DeLeo said he hoped the House could pass the bill early enough for the Senate to tackle the issue. "I do feel that we'll be able to come up with a piece of legislation for the governor to sign," he said.
For video of House Speaker Robert DeLeo's remarks on the task force, go to http://www.statehousenews.com/video/14-02-03deleo/
For full video and audio from today's task force press conference, go to http://www.statehousenews.com/video/14-02-03guns/
The task force achieved unanimity in its recommendations, which included bringing the state into compliance with a federal database law and giving police chiefs the ability to determine the "suitability" for someone seeking a firearm identification card - which allows people to own rifles and shotguns.
Wallace said that recommendation is not supported by research, and both he and Rep. George Peterson, a Grafton Republican and gun owner, criticized the proposal for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police and the Gun Control Advisory Board to develop statewide standards for "suitability" to be a licensed gun owner.
"To me, this approach leaves too much discretion to the state's Police Chiefs and Advisory Board. It is my belief that a better way to handle factors relative to firearm ownership should be the explicit definition of those persons who would be prohibited from owning a firearm," said Peterson, a Grafton Republican and gun owner. He thanked DeLeo's task force for its "in-depth analysis" and said "the devil will be in the details" during the legislative process.
Rosenthal said he is "most pleased" by the recommended requirement that all private gun sales take place at a licensed gun dealer, that people who are adjudicated as requiring involuntary commitment for mental illness will be entered into a federal database, and that police chiefs are given the "same discretion" in licensing rifles as they are with handguns.
Wallace took a dim view of the task force's work.
"Apparently with some of the things they talked about they still don't understand the gun laws," said Wallace. He also said it was "very disturbing" that the report didn't mention the "abject failure" of gun laws to decrease crime.
Wallace said since 1998's gun reform, gun crime has increased 300 percent, while lawful gun licenses decreased by more than 80 percent.
"In Boston this has been a very bad month for homicides," said Jack McDevitt, a Northeastern University dean who led the task force, presented the findings, and said the group found some "illogical" aspects of the state's gun policy.
Gov. Deval Patrick said he had not yet read the task force's report, but was hopeful that time remained for legislative action despite the year that has passed since momentum for gun law reform peaked after the elementary school shootings in Connecticut.
"They took a big step today. I haven't seen the report, but 44 recommendations are a lot of recommendations and they have time before the session ends. I hope they will at, at least, on those recommendations and if there are things we've proposed that we believe are right that are not included I hope they'll be open to those further suggestions as well," Patrick said.
The recommendations did not include Patrick's proposal to limit gun purchases to one per month, which he has filed several times.
"We filed that idea because we believed in it, and I agree it's politically difficult. I think we've seen that having filed it a number of times, but I hope that's not the overriding consideration," Patrick said.
Asked what he would like to see included in any final reform package, Patrick said the purchasing limits and tools to deal with the trafficking of guns in bulk should be addressed.
"The committee settled on things that really had a chance to pass and would really make a difference," said Robert Cerasoli, the former inspector general and a member of the task force. He said there are "hot button issues" in the report and predicted both sides in the debate would have some cause for dissatisfaction.
Cerasoli described meetings where the group "argued, argued and argued." McDevitt, who said the group has a diversity of gun owners and non-gun owners with different perspectives, declined to say where members fit on the spectrum of opinions on gun access.
McDevitt said that the illegal gun markets are "small" compared to the illicit drug market, and illegal gun dealers bring in one or two dozen guns at a time for sale on the street.
Matt Murphy contributed reporting.