94% of MA Elected Officials Polled Do Not Own Firearms
Friday, January 18, 2013
Of the 21 state Senators, 83 state Representatives, six state officers and nine members of Congress that responded to GoLocal's survey, only seven elected officials, or 6 percent of respondents, said they owned a firearm. Several respondents declined to answer for privacy reasons or chose to offer no response.
In the wake of the tragic mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school last month that took the lives of 20 first-graders, lawmakers across the country have called for a renewed debate on gun control, and both President Obama and Governor Deval Patrick introduced new gun safety legislation this week.
But gun rights advocates said the lack of firearm ownership among legislators has led to lack of understanding and the crafting of gun control laws that have a negative impact on law-abiding citizens.
Patrick's Gun Reform
Patrick's legislation includes enhanced background checks, which will be in compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and would require the state's courts to transmit relevant mental health records to the criminal justice information system so they can be included in a national registry that all states access prior to issuing gun licenses. To close an existing loophole, gun purchasers would be required to undergo background checks at gun shows.
Patrick is also seeking to limit the number of weapon sales by licensed dealers to one per licensed individual each month and require private gun sales to occur at licensed dealers so they can be tracked. The Governor's legislation would also reduce access to high-powered ammunition.
In addition, Patrick is including a $5 million increase to the state's Department of Mental Health in his FY2014 budget to bolster programs that promote public safety and increase public awareness of available mental health treatment.
“I am encouraged by the palpable consensus in our Legislature that the time for action is now," the Governor said. "All of us must pull in the same direction to bring about real change in this state and across the country.”
Missing the Target
However, several gun advocates argued that the lack of gun ownership and familiarity with firearms among lawmakers leads to misdirected gun control laws that target law-abiding citizens rather than the criminal element responsible for much of the country's gun violence.
William McCarthy, a professor of Criminal Justice at Quinsigamond Community College and a member of the Republican State Committee, said he was not surprised by the low percentage of gun ownership among elected officials in the Bay State.
"Based on the current laws in effect that have been passed in the state during the last 10 to 20 years and the makeup of the legislature, we can see that the political philosophy of the majority of the members trends toward gun control," McCarthy said.
Massachusetts passed an extensive gun control act in 1998, which contained many of the same restrictions as the 1994 federal assault weapon ban and also defined "large capacity" firearms as any semi-automatic firearm that can accept or be modified to accept a magazine with more than 10 rounds.
"Obviously the legislation that was passed in 1998 was drafted and passed by people that hated guns," said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners' Action League (GOAL), grassroots organization based in Northborough and the official state association of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in Massachusetts.
The current state legislature has been more proactive in communicating with gun advocates and Second Amendment groups like GOAL.
"For the most part the leadership has been reaching out for information and other legislators have as well," Wallace said.
"This was all brought about because therer was a killer in the classroom," he said. "None of the proposals I've seen anywhere, federal or state, deal with the killer in the classroom."
Steven Hathaway, director of the Mass Firearms School, said Patrick's legislation, which would change the definition of "large capacity" firearms to include any semi-automatic firearm that can accept or be modified to accept a magazine with a capacity of seven rounds, rather than the previous 10 rounds, is an example of arbitrary restrictions on guns that have unintended consequences.
"As the law is currently written, it is an outright ban on all semi-automatic firearms," he said.
Because many gun laws are so poorly-written, Hathaway said, they have the potential to turn law-abiding citizens into felons.
"They're passing laws that they don't understand. They don't understand the engineering and the mechanics of firearms."
Meanwhile, Wallace said that the number of licensed gun owners in the Commonwealth has decreased from 1.5 million to around 230,000 since the state's 1998 gun control laws passed, but gun violence has increased by 200 percent during the same time period.
"It was becasue they came after the lawful gun owner in 1998 like they're doing now rather than deal with the human criminal element," he said.
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