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Worcester Coalition Rallies Support for Stricter Gun Laws

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

 

The recently-formed Greater Worcester Coalition Against Gun Violence is working to make sure the voices of gun safety groups are heard on Beacon Hill and beyond.

The coalition, composed of Worcester area residents and organizations, will hold its first public forum this Saturday at the Worcester Public Library with Dr. Michael Hirsh, acting commissioner of the Worcester Division of Public Health (WDPH), speaking about the accessibility of firearms, the Commonwealth's gun safety laws and what steps can be taken to reduce the number of gun-related deaths.

Hirsh is no stranger to the fight against gun violence. The doctor lost one of his closest friends and colleagues to a shooting over 30 years ago, and the tragedy inspired Hirsh to develop the "Goods for Guns" buyback program, which has taken a total of 2,311 guns out of homes and off of streets in Worcester since it began in 2002.

The drive for meaningful change

Gun violence is a personal issue for organizing members of the coalition as well.

"I personally have my own history with gun violence," said Dante Comparetto of Worcester. "As a teenager, I got involved in a whole bunch of pretty bad things, and I was subsequently shot in the leg, and I've also had many friends that were killed."

Comparetto said the coalition was started in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last December by a group of individuals from around the area who wanted to see some meaningful changes in gun safety legislation.

Several Worcester community groups have come on board as well, said Comparetto, including Women Together, Mosaic Worcester, the Center for Nonviolent Solutions and a group associated with MoveOn as well.

Making their voice heard

Dr. Michael Hirsh

"Part of the reason why we formed is because we realized how strong groups like the NRA are at ensuring that meaningful gun legislation doesn't get passed and really kind of fogging the debate," Comparetto said. "Right now, a lot of these groups are forming and they're being heard at the State House much more than gun safety groups like us."

Last week, with support from the NRA, the gun rights group Commonwealth Second Amendment (Comm2A) and six Mass. residents filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of restrictions placed on the Licenses to Carry issued by Worcester Chief of Police Gary Gemme and his counterparts in the towns of Weymouth, Danvers and Peabody. In the suit, the plaintiffs allege that they were were denied their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms because the police chiefs imposed unreasonable and unlawful licensing restrictions on them.

"In this instance, I'm 100 percent supportive of Chief Gemme and his approach to issuing gun permits," said Comparetto, who does not necessarily see eye to eye with the chief on every issue.

He noted that the predominant amount of violence in Worcester stems from knife attacks, which have a much higher survival rate than shootings, due in large part to the tight gun restrictions in the city as well as the state as a whole.

"We'd like to even strengthen those laws," Comparetto said. "We'd like to lead the nation with regard to gun laws."

The coalition's members have been very supportive of Governor Deval Patrick's proposed gun safety legislation, and new legislation is said to be in the pipeline.

A first step in mobilizing support

In the meantime, Comparetto and compatriots in the Greater Worcester Coalition Against Gun Violence will take the first step in trying to mobilize support for eventual lobbying at the State House with their event this weekend.

"We're going to be talking about the prevalence of guns, we're going to be talking about gun violence in general, we're going to be talking about current gun safety law in Massachusetts and how that can be strengthened," Comparetto said.

The forum will be held on the Worcester Public Library's third floor, beginning at 10:00 a.m. this Saturday, February 16.

 

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