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Panel Weighing Gun Bills Hear From Bay State Safety Activists, Owners

Among bills filed by Democratic lawmakers and pending before the committee are ones that would prohibit so-called copycat assault weapons

In a state already acknowledged to have some of the nation's toughest gun laws, safety advocates argued before a legislative committee on Wednesday for further steps to curb violence from firearms in Massachusetts.

"One homicide is too many, one shooting is too many," said Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, in arguing for passage of a bill to crack down on the trafficking of illegal guns which, he noted, all too often wind up involved in violent crimes on city streets.

The Legislature's Public Safety and Homeland Security panel took testimony on that and dozens of other gun-related proposals during the packed Statehouse hearing that came weeks after the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left more than 30 dead.

Democratic Rep. Harold Naughton, the committee's House chair, said while Massachusetts should be "rightly proud" of statistics showing it has one of the nation's lowest gun death rates, the state remained in a position to lead in the possible crafting of new or even stronger measures.

Massachusetts is among the U.S. states that retained a prohibition on the sale or possession of assault-style weapons after a federal ban expired in 2004, and in recent years it has also moved to strengthen background checks required for gun ownership. The state was also the first to enact a ban on bump stocks like the one used by a gunman to massacre concert-goers in Las Vegas in 2017, and last year enacted a "red flag" law that allows for the temporary seizure of firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Jim Wallace, executive director of the 16,000-member Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, disputed the contention that strict laws have made the state's residents any safer.

"There is no success with these guns laws, period," said Wallace. "The only thing these gun laws have done is make the people I represent suffer to try to get through these laws without violations."

Wallace, whose testimony was cheered by gun owners and sportsmen who attended the standing room only hearing, urged lawmakers to refrain from imposing further regulations while backing proposals he said would strengthen 2nd Amendment rights, including one that would prohibit local communities from imposing any gun control ordinances that exceed those mandated by state law.

Among bills filed by Democratic lawmakers and pending before the committee are ones that would prohibit so-called copycat assault weapons that critics say are designed to skirt the state ban, along with weapons made from 3D printers or "ghost guns" that are often untraceable by law enforcement.

Rep. David Linsky, a Natick Democrat, also argued for a requirement that all gun owners carry liability insurance and undergo at least five hours of "live fire" training before any firearms license is issued.

Not requiring that people actually fire a gun, Linsky said, was akin to "putting people on the road with just the classroom portion of driver training."

Republicans on the committee, including Sen. Dean Tran, of Fitchburg, said additional insurance and training requirements would only make it more difficult and expensive for law-abiding people — including low-income and minority residents — to exercise gun ownership rights.

"I have a license to carry. My record is as clean as Mr. Clean," said Tran. "We should have the ability to place this burden on the people who illegally own firearms."

The Legislature is scheduled to return from summer recess next month, but it's unclear when or if any of the gun bills might reach the floor for debate.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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