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Gun advocates offer alternatives to state bills

GREENFIELD — About a dozen Second Amendment advocates turned out at Greenfield Community College on Monday to offer alternatives to the various weapons bills before the state Legislature.

At GCC’s Main Street campus, Rep. Paul Mark hosted the third of five statewide public hearings on gun bills. The listening tour is led by House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security Rep. Harold Naughton of Clinton, a rural town near Worcester.

At the crux of the hearings is about 60 bills related to gun control filed in the current Legislature session, including one introduced by Gov. Deval Patrick that tightens access to high-powered rounds of ammunition and calls for gun buyers to undergo background checks at gun shows.

Other proposals focus on whether GPS locators should be put in guns and whether the gun permitting process should be streamlined.

The influx of weapon bills was prompted by the December shooting of 26 students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The joint committee is charged with hearing all the various bills and coming up with legislation, Naughton said. The goal is to have a comprehensive bill by September.

What the committee wants to focus on, he said, is the issues of mental health and lifting the stigma associated with seeking help. The legislators also hope to find a solution to school safety and what tools can be provided to prevent another Newtown-like shooting.

“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve taken on in my life,” said Naughton. “Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean we should back off.”

The listening tour is designed for Naughton to hear the public’s thoughts on gun violence, school safety and firearms before the committee takes up the various bills.

On Aug. 2, Naughton will travel to American International College in Springfield for another hearing.

Franklin County sportsmen and military veterans offered different ideas, such as measures that would target criminals and address mental health problems. It appears no pro-gun control advocates attended.

The gun-supporters’ biggest concern is what they feel is an attack on their amendment rights. Their frustration, the gun advocates agreed, was that law-abiding citizens were paying the price for criminals’ actions.

John Burruto, vice president of the Franklin County Sportsmen’s Club and former teacher, said there is a misunderstanding among gun-control advocates about weapons.

“There is a lot of misinformation perpetrated in different ways,” Burruto said. “There may be a kernel of truth. This issue of misinformation creates ideological momentum against guns. No matter how many legally owned guns there are, it won’t stop the swamp of illegal guns.”

One solution, many gun enthusiasts said, was to provide public safety courses in school. “Most of these people who commit crimes got the idea from the media. Take the mystique out of the firearm,” Stanley Gradowski said. “Explain that it is a tool. It isn’t sexy or macho. It has to start somewhere.

Jon Rutka remembered when the Boy Scouts offered firearm safety lessons and schools had target teams. He doubted whether any of the proposed bills would solve the problem.

“Part of the education of what firearms are is lost,” he said.

Gun advocates also discounted a proposed bill requiring gun owners to have insurance. Only lawful citizens would pay the cost, while criminals would continue to skirt the system, they said.

Others said the biggest issue is people with mental health issues accessing guns. Gradowski, a retired state trooper, recalled being shot in 1981 by a person with mental health issues released from the state hospital.

“Mental health now is a mental joke,” said Gradowski.

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