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Are our gun laws enough?

Recorder/Paul Franz
Christine Noyes of Grrr Gear in Orange with her Lab/setter mix Randy.

Recorder/Paul Franz Christine Noyes of Grrr Gear in Orange with her Lab/setter mix Randy.

As the nation continues to cope with last week’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the conversation has turned to gun control, nationally and here in Franklin County.

“It was a tragic thing that happened in Newtown, but I don’t think gun control is the total answer,” said James Stanely, president of the Millers Falls Rod and Gun Club. “The bad guys are still going to get guns. It’s like that everywhere, regardless of the laws.”

A semi-automatic Bushmaster AR-15 was used by the Newtwon school shooter, who went through several 30-round magazines, according to Newtown police. The rifle and two handguns found on the shooter were purchased by and registered to his mother, who was shot dead in her home before the school shooting.

“It’s definitely the gun owner’s responsibility to keep their guns secured,” said Jack Wolfram, of Greenfield. Wolfram is a member of the Franklin County Sportsmen’s Club, who target shoots and hunts.

“They’d have to have a blowtorch to get into my gun safe,” said Wolfram. “All the guys I shoot and hunt with keep their guns locked up. There’s nothing to say someone’s not going to break into your house, and if you’ve got guns out, they’re going to grab them.”

On the other hand, said Wolfram, many criminals have little trouble illegally procuring guns.

“There’s no way in hell you’re going to stop all the criminals and no-goods from getting guns and doing something they shouldn’t.”

A key issue of the gun control debate centers around assault weapons like the AR-15.

Though fully-automatic rifles remain illegal under federal law, semi-automatic versions, which require a trigger pull for each round fired, are legal in many states. Many assault-style rifles were banned by federal law from 1994 to 2004, when the ban expired. The federal ban also placed a 10-round capacity limit on firearms sold.

Before the federal ban expired, Massachusetts enacted its own assault weapon ban in 1998, using many of the restrictions of the lapsed federal ban — controls that many gun control advocates nonetheless say were easily circumvented.

Under the current state ban, many military-style rifles are still available. Though new handguns and rifles must have a magazine capacity of 10 or fewer rounds, and shotguns are limited to a five-round capacity, firearms and magazines manufactured before the 1994 federal ban took effect are exempted.

“Someone with a class-A license can buy any pre-ban weapons with a 10-plus round capacity,” said Christine Noyes, owner of Grrr Gear, an Orange sporting goods store.

Class-A licenses also allow the holder to carry a concealed, loaded handgun. Holders of class-B licenses or firearms identification cards are limited to guns that take 10 or fewer bullets, no matter the date of manufacture. They may also carry a handgun, but it must be worn in plain sight.

“Laws allowing people to conceal weapons are a step in the wrong direction,” said Abbie Jenks, professor of peace, justice, and environmental studies at Greenfield Community College.

Jenks said she recognizes legitimate gun uses like hunting. She said she knows several hunters, who are always careful with their firearms.

“They’ve grown up with guns, they teach their kids gun safety, and they always keep their guns locked up and never loaded,” she said.

The AR-15 is one of the more popular military-style weapons available to consumers. A fully automatic version of the rifle was manufactured for the military and branded the M-16. The M-16 made its debut during the Vietnam war, and quickly became the standard-issue combat rifle.

Now, semi-automatic models of the AR-15 made by various manufacturers are available to the public, even under the Massachusetts assault weapon ban.

Some wonder why any civilian would need an assault rifle.

“There’s no justifiable reason for any civilian to own an assault weapon,” said Jenks.

Some gun owners disagree.

“For hunting, there’s really no use for (military-style rifles),” said Stanley. “A lot of people enjoy using them for target shooting.”

Stanley hunts “most anything,” and uses bows, shotguns, and a .308 caliber hunting rifle on his outings.

“Who needs something that holds 30, 35, or 40 shots?” wondered Wolfram. “Target shooters and hunters just don’t need it.”

When hunting birds, said Wolfram, he’s only able to fire two shotgun rounds before the birds are spooked and fly out of range.

Wolfram said he would be perfectly fine if the government outlawed high-capacity firearms altogether.

“I don’t think we need more gun control. The only thing I’m concerned about are these assault rifles with big clips,” he said.

Noyes said she and her husband are avid skeet shooters, and use shotguns for the sport.

She said large capacity rifles may be useful on the range and in some shooting sports, but doesn’t think they’re necessary for hunting.

“We have sold a few AR-15s, but not a lot of them,” said Noyes. Occasionally, she said, the store will have a few military-style rifles in stock, but usually sells them on a per-order basis.

Most of the people buying firearms at Grrr Gear are hunters, said Noyes, and typically buy handguns, shotguns, and hunting rifles.

As long as they pass instant state and national background checks, said Noyes, customers can walk out of her store with any in-stock firearm the same day.

“There’s a lot of paperwork involved,” added Noyes. She said it takes about half an hour to fill out all the required forms.

Stanley said he doesn’t think Massachusetts gun laws are overly restrictive, but he doesn’t think they need to be tightened, either.

Increase in permits

State records show that the number of firearms licenses and permits issued has seen a 36 percent rise in the last five years, according to the Associated Press.

Noyes, who has owned Grrr Gear for three years, said she has seen an increase in firearms purchases at the store over that time.

“We’re seeing a lot more women (buying firearms),” she said. Most of those women said they were buying firearms for hunting or target shooting, though a few said they wanted a gun for personal protection, said Noyes.

“There are a lot of hunters and sport shooters in our area,” said Noyes.

To get their license, applicants need to pass a basic firearms course.

“You need to take a course on gun safety to get any license or guns (in Massachusetts),” said Stanley. “I think it’s a good thing.”

There are a lot of hoops to jump through to get a gun, and Stanley thinks that’s good, too.

“We want guns in the right hands,” he said. “We have a lot of good gun laws.”

Wolfram agreed. He said he doesn’t think Massachusetts or federal laws are too restrictive, but he doesn’t feel they need to be tightened, either.

“Our gun laws are right about where they should be,” he said.

Many of those state laws are aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands, and provide a list of crimes and other violations that bar certain people from gun ownership.

Though many people are prohibited from owning guns, they sometimes illegally get their hands on guns that are lawfully owned by someone else.

Noyes said any firearm sold in Massachusetts must be accompanied with a state police-approved safety lock, to prevent unauthorized use.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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