Area lawmakers support tightened gun laws

Area lawmakers support tightened gun laws

  • Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., center, calls for gun control legislation in the wake of the mass shooting in an Orlando LGBT nightclub this week, Thursday, June 16, 2016, on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Rev. Sharon Risher, Risher, a clinical trauma chaplain in Dallas, who lost her mother Ethel Lance and two cousins in the racially-motivated shooting at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, N.C. in 2015, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Murphy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

For The Recorder
Thursday, June 16, 2016

State Rep. Ellen Story is hopeful that federal action to curb gun violence may finally be on the horizon.

“For the first time in years I’m getting my hopes up that the federal government might do something,” the Amherst Democrat said. “For some reason the outrage at this point is even higher than it was after Sandy Hook.”

A previous federal ban on certain semiautomatic weapons, enacted in 1994, expired automatically in 2004. The last of several unsuccessful attempts to reinstate it came in 2013, the year after the massacre by Adam Lanza of 20 elementary school children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Story, and many others, believed that if the slaying of 6- and 7-year-old children could not force gun reform, then nothing could.

But outrage following the killing of 49 people at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub on Sunday has prompted renewed calls to limit access to guns.

And the efforts appear to be gaining traction. Senate Democrats early Thursday ended their nearly 14-hour filibuster after Republican leaders reportedly agreed to allow votes on two proposed gun laws.

The measures consider whether to prohibit people on the government’s terrorist watch list from obtaining gun licenses and whether to expand background checks to gun shows and internet sales.

There is broad support for those efforts among lawmakers who represent western Massachusetts, including U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

Both of the U.S. senators from Massachusetts vocally backed increased restrictions during Wednesday’s filibuster. They are both also in favor of a federal ban on military-style assault weapons, such as the AR-15-type semiautomatic rifle used by Omar Mateen in the nightclub shooting.

“If we fail to act, the next time someone uses a gun to kill one of us, a gun that we could have kept out of the hands of a terrorist, then members of this Congress will have blood on our hands,” Warren said.

Markey said the Congressional stalemate can be blamed squarely on the influence the National Rifle Association has on lawmakers.

“The NRA says no. The NRA said no last year, the NRA said no the year before. The NRA controls the agenda of the United States Senate,” Markey said. “They are the ones who decide whether or not guns can be sold to terrorists in the United States of America.”

Congressmen react

The valley’s two Democratic congressmen also favor ratcheting up federal gun restrictions.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern of Worcester on Tuesday attempted to use a procedural motion to force a vote on the “no fly, no buy” legislation that would ban people prohibited from air travel by the FBI also from purchasing firearms.

“Unfortunately it failed on party lines,” McGovern said Thursday. He also called for a ban on assault weapons and preventing those convicted of hate crimes from being able to buy guns.

McGovern admits that such restrictions would not have necessarily prevented the nightclub slaying, though he said it is a step in the right direction for limiting access to firearms.

“I find it incomprehensible that people who are on the FBI’s terrorist watch list that are deemed too dangerous to fly on airplanes can go out and buy a weapon of war and do it perfectly within the law — that’s just crazy,” he said. “I think it would be a hard measure for my colleagues to vote against.”

And U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, of Springfield, supports reinstating the federal assault weapons ban, his spokesman said Thursday, though Neal was unavailable for comment.

“Americans need to feel safe at school, church, work and social events,” Neal wrote in a statement Monday. “A good place to start is by reducing the level of gun violence that now plagues every corner of America.”

State lawmakers reflect

Story, who supports increased federal gun restrictions, said she is closely watching the media’s response to the Orlando attack. Her reading list this week included Thursday’s four-page “Make it Stop” editorial section wrapped around the front of the Boston Globe, and several other columns on gun control.

“This is unusual. The cover of the Globe was really unusual,” she said. “It feels to me that people are responding in a different, more urgent way.”

Story lauded the Globe’s prominent profiling of six U.S. senators who have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from gun rights groups while voting down reforms. Calling out lawmakers who refuse to act on sensible gun reforms will be a key to success, she said.

“I do think shame and blame are the key here,” she said. “Blame the people who voted the wrong way and shame them into changing their behavior.”

Other state lawmakers on Thursday echoed Story’s call for increasing federal gun restriction.

Though Massachusetts gun laws — including its assault weapons ban — are among the strictest in the nation, state Sen. Eric P. Lesser, D-Longmeadow, said assault rifles such as the one used by Mateen can easily cross state borders.

“Our citizens and our state have stepped up and said these are very dangerous weapons,” Lesser said. “It’s very unfair that our citizens are still at risk because somebody can buy it in Florida and drive up (interstates) 95 and 91 and there’s nothing we can do about it without Congress acting.”

State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing also noted the problems of having different laws in different states.

“There are dramatic differences between Massachusetts and Vermont, there are dramatic differences between Massachusetts and New Hampshire,” said the Pittsfield Democrat. “It impacts the effectiveness of the laws” in Massachusetts.

State Rep. John W. Scibak, D-South Hadley, said the issue of gun control is nuanced.

“The immediate reaction is we need tougher laws,” he said. “I think it’s important to look at the entire picture.”

Scibak said it’s important to consider whether specific gun-control policies are effective in meeting their goals. He said he is eager to read the results of a study in progress by Northeastern University on the Massachusetts ban on assault weapons.

He said he is in favor of “no fly, no buy” legislation, while mental health issues and domestic violence convictions should play a part in gun license eligibility, as they do in Massachusetts.

If Congress considers an assault weapons ban, Scibak said it will be important for lawmakers to carefully consider how those weapons are defined and whether they adversely affect law-abiding gun owners, such as hunters.

“I think we need to be careful that we’re not going too far to the extreme in terms of banning or prohibiting those individuals continuing to do what they do and hunt and enjoy recreational shooting,” Scibak said. “But at the same time, we have an obligation to protect the citizenry at large.”