Police chiefs, activists rip Senate on gun bill

Discretion in issuing firearms IDs for rifles and shotguns called a “cornerstone” of legislation

Standing in front of phalanx of more than a dozen Massachusetts police chiefs, gun-control activist John Rosenthal called out the state Senate this morning for giving in to pressure from the gun lobby in weakening new gun legislation making its way through the State House.

The Senate last week amended a gun control bill passed by the House by stripping out a provision that would give local police chiefs the authority to determine a resident’s suitability to obtain a firearms ID card for a rifle or shotgun. Police chiefs currently have the power to approve or deny licenses to carry a handgun. Law enforcement officials who gathered this morning at the State House said extending that same discretion to “long guns” would represent an important step in strengthening the state’s gun laws, which are already among the most stringent in the country.

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans: “I’m real
disappointed in the Senate.”

“What the Senate chose to do was placate the NRA instead of responding to law enforcement,” said Rosenthal, a developer who owns the iconic anti-gun violence billboard that looms over the Massachusetts Turnpike near Fenway Park.

Terry Cunningham, the Wellesley police chief, cited a scenario in which police are called repeatedly to an address for a domestic disturbance between a couple living there. Cunningham said he could deny an application from the man living there for a license to carry a handgun, but would be unable, under current law, to deny him a firearms ID card for a rifle based on the perception that he lacks self-control or has propensity to be violent. “I find it completely illogical. I find it mortally offensive that I have to issue a license,” he said. “Are people really going to be any less dead if they’re killed with a rifle or shotgun than a handgun?”

Also speaking out against the Senate bill at the event were Boston Police Commissioner William Evans and the city’s former commissioner, Ed Davis.

“I’m real disappointed in the Senate,” said Evans. “We try our best but we need the legislators’ help in helping us control violence.”

Gun rights advocates say police chiefs have abused the discretion they already have over handgun licenses.

Sen. James Timilty, the Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, has also raised concerns that the licensing provision for rifles and shotguns could violate the US Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The 28-11 vote in the Senate to strip out the police chief discretion provision had the surprising support of several of liberal stalwarts, including Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg, who is in line to become Senate president next year. Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, was not available to comment on Tuesday, his office said.

The Greenfield Recorder quoted him over the weekend defending the vote to maintain the status quo. “We’re just saying that for long guns, we’re sticking with the current procedure because there’s adequate oversight and control through the federal government,” Rosenberg said.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Warren Tolman and Maura Healey, who are facing off in the Democratic primary for attorney general, both attended the event and voiced support afterwards for the new discretionary authority given to police chiefs in the House bill. Healey deflected a question asking whether she has spoken about the issue with Rosenberg, who has endorsed her.

A legislative conference committee will try to work out differences between the two bills before the end of the session on July 31.