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Investigation: Gun Permits Skyrocketing in Central MA

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


A GoLocalWorcester investigation revealed that gun permits have increased by over 300 percent in some Central Mass towns in the past four years.  A trend shows that across the region, the numbers have increased significantly.

According to the Center for Gun Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, more than 31,000 people a year in the United States die from gunshot wounds. In addition to these deaths, the firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is twenty times greater than in other high-income countries.

These statistics, in conjunction with the recent mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, have brought the issues of gun control, permit restriction, and mental health to the forefront. One local expert says that Massachusetts could stand to rewrite their gun laws and take a closer look at the issues surrounding gun permits.

Skyrocketing Numbers

All towns and cities in Central Mass saw increases, some as high as 892%. That increase was seen in Brimfield. Ashby, Dudley, and Hubbardstown all saw increases in the 300% range, many gaining over 100 additional permits in a single year.

Worcester had the highest number of permits but increased 69% over the four year period, one of the lowest increases in the number of permits issued in the region.

SLIDES: Towns With the Most Gun Permits in Central MA

What’s Behind the Figures?

Jim Wallace, the executive director of Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL) in Northborough, said there are a number of reasons behind high numbers across Central Mass.

He said that administrative permits could be adding to these figures, due to the large backlog created by previous revisions to permit laws.

“From given year to year, you’re going to see an ebb and flow from renewals,” he said.

But it’s hard to tell how many of these permits are due to government and administrative reasons.

Wallace also cited fear as one reason people have been rushing to get permits.

“People have become very afraid that the federal or state government is going to push laws that will infringe upon their rights to get guns,” he said. “There is this sweeping idea that if they’re licensed, they going to get grandfathered in.”

GOAL is responsible for educating and training individuals seeking to get gun permits, and Wallace said that the fastest growing demographic they see year after year is women.

“A lot of that came from the storms – Katrina and now Sandy. A lot of the women we’ve trained have said that they didn’t think they would ever be in a position where they couldn’t call for help,” he said. “People stealing food, water, gasoline – whatever they have. That became a really important thing for many women. Every time we run one of those training courses, it’s been full beyond capacity.”

Worcester's Numbers

While most areas saw enormous increases, Worcester was not among them. Numbers between years actually fell, then rose again, making for a more reasonable increase.

Wallace also offered some ideas as to why Worcester’s percent of increase was not as high as those found in neighboring towns.

“The Chief in Worcester is very strict,” he said. “Even when he has been requested by lawsuit to order an individual a license, he has thumbed his nose and said ‘Well, come make me.'”

How MA Laws Stack Up

The recent shooting in neighboring Connecticut has revived many debates about gun control and laws restricting access. While numbers of permits in Central Mass have been spiking in recent years, studies show that the Bay State is at the top of the chart in terms of its laws.

SmartGunLaws.org ranked Massachusetts one of the top states for its safe laws. Among some of the criteria listed were the state’s requirement for any person who sells, rents or leases a firearm to obtain a state dealer license; a ban on most assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, but not 50 caliber rifles; and maintaining a permanent list of registered firearms.


The ranking lauded the Commonwealth for many reasons but still had some strikes against the state.

Massachusetts does not require the reporting of mentally ill individuals to the federal database used for firearm purchaser background checks, limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time, or require unlicensed firearm sellers to conduct a background check on the purchaser, although they must ensure that the purchaser holds a license.

Need for Change

Despite their thoroughness, Wallace said the gun laws in Massachusetts need to be revised. For four years, Wallace has been a part of a group that is trying to separately deal with two groups involved in gun licenses – those who avidly stand up for their civil right to own and carry a gun, and those who would pose a threat to public safety.

He said the difficult part is that if you tighten laws to protect the public, you infringe on those rights, and vice versa.

“We suggested a Prohibited Persons Status. If you were ineligible to own a gun by law, you’d be on a roster. There would be no questions if an officer had to question you. There would be no excuse that your license expired,” he said.

“The problem was that the bill was so comprehensive, that the state legislature said, ‘We don’t want to handle it.’ And that’s the sad part. They have no desire to fix the laws and reform them.”

A Mental Health Issue

Wallace said that in conjunction with reforming the state laws surrounding gun control, mental health is a crucial issue.

“The mental health issue is paramount. We have to address that,” he said. “When the Wakefield murders happened, we had a meeting with then Governor [Jane] Swift to form a commission to study the mental health issue.”

He said that like the most recent tragedy, these individuals seemingly hide in our society, snap, and then become violent.

“All these issues, in every case, it’s a very disturbed individual. For some reason no one wants to stand up and say let’s take a look at this kid. We as a society – we have to be able to agree that there is a level of people who have severe mental illness, who shouldn’t even get to the point of a background check,” Wallace said.

Wallace urged the rethinking of this issue and others tied to gun control, but said that nothing can be resolved until everyone can understand the situation clearly. He spoke about a law enforcement training that was accompanied with a 400 page book.

“If law enforcement needs a 400 page book to help them understand the laws, how can we expect individuals to stand a chance,” he said. 


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Iron Mike Farquhar

We have a God-given right to LIFE – which comes with the RIGHT to self-defense.

This was re-affirmed in our 2nd Amendment. Our founders understood that peaceful free men are in constant danger from wild animals, - from evil men, and from overbearing kings [government].

Thus our right to life and self defense means we have the right to be armed – with whatever is state-of-the-art at the time. Over recent history subjects of the king could – and WERE – hung for owning a longbow, a cross-bow, or any part of a firearm – i.e. 'lock, stock, or barrel'.

Today there is a huge push by [well-meaning?] liberals to have government again become overbearing and restrict and infringe upon our right to self-defense. Liberals want Obama to ban and seize our guns.

No wonder free men are buying more – just in case.

And BEFORE you knee-jerk liberals start claiming that we have nothing to fear from government, - ask yourselves why these past 2 years DHS has bought 1,300,000,000 rounds of rifle, shotgun, machine-gun and pistol ammunition. WHO is DHS planning on going to war against?

And Imagine if just one teacher at Sandy Hook had been ARMED!

Christopher Pinto

This article is a misrepresentation of the facts. Percentage wise (or per capita) Worcester has one of the lowest number for LTCs.


Mike Murray

~700 permits across a population of 180,000, right? That's like 0.3%... Lower than I thought.

Christopher Pinto

I like the double barrel .45 pistol. Too bad those are about as rare as a politician that does not lie. BUT what the hell. Why not pick a scary looking gun to write a slanted piece about gun ownership "sky rocketing" in Central MA using bogus statistics.

The fact of the matter is that it is extremely difficult to get an unrestricted LTC in Worcester. The Chief of Police does not hand them out easily.

Here is a better picture of gun licensing in MA ->


Harry Huckum

Around 20 years, when Boston gang wars and gun murders were at their ferocious height, Boston police proposed to set up check-points at various routes into the worst neighborhoods search all cars for illegal firearms. This 1) would have indisputably reduced the murder rate and 2) was shot down as too big a price to pay in the surrender of civil rights just to save a few lives. I think quite a few of those ACLU types who opposed those searches are quite ready to use the gun registration lists to confiscate LEGALLY held guns even though all this will serve to do is drive tens of thousands of gun owners underground. Is it because the lives of white school children in suburbia are regarded as more important than minority kids in Boston or Chicago or is it that there is an ulterior motive in their confiscation plan?

“With just one single exception, the attack on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011, every public shooting since at least 1950 in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry guns.”

Iron Mike Farquhar

Thugs, madmen, and despots have always preferred their victims tightly packed, disarmed, and helpless.

Ever see a madman go on a killing spree at a shooting range?

Next we need to ban spoons - they made Rosie, Oprah and Sheriff Andrea Cabral fat.... We should demand spoons be rounded up!

Tax Payer Citizen

Agree to all!

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