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Gun owners protest against Mass. laws

BOSTON - Gun owners called on legislators Wednesday to simplify the state's strict but "convoluted" gun control laws, saying they had failed to stem violence in Massachusetts.

The Gun Owners Action League, which claims more than 15,000 members in the state, staged a Second Amendment rally on the Boston Common as gun control advocates pushed for even tougher laws in Massachusetts in the wake of the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Also Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey - who are competing for the Democratic nomination to run in a special election for the U.S. Senate - issued a joint statement backing President Barack Obama's call for tougher federal gun laws.

Massachusetts already bans assault weapons, restricts high-capacity magazines and requires police chiefs to conduct background checks on residents seeking to purchase firearms.

But gun owners, citing Massachusetts Department of Public Health statistics, said deaths and injuries from gun violence have continued to climb since 1998 despite the stringent rules.

"Unfortunately, we have 15 years of evidence in Massachusetts that gun controls are simply an abject failure," said James Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League. "It's a social experiment that didn't work."

The figures cited in the group's report showed that gun-related homicides in the state had nearly doubled and gun-related hospital emergency room visits had tripled in the past 15 years, though both categories had seen a decline since 2007.

Gun control supporters credit the state's tough laws for keeping Massachusetts below much of the nation in gun violence and say the fact that deaths and injuries have continued to climb only bears out the need for strengthening the laws.

"I think the concern the gun owners have that someone is going to take their guns away is misplaced," Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters Wednesday. "I think it is possible to strike a balance between protecting the safety of children in classrooms and the public safety at large, and respecting people's Second Amendment rights."

Patrick has filed legislation that would, among other measures, restrict gun owners to purchasing one firearm a month; tighten access to high-powered rounds of ammunition; create four new types of firearms-related crimes; and mandate buyers to undergo background checks before purchasing weapons at gun shows.

The bill would also require Massachusetts courts to send all relevant mental health records to the state's criminal justice information system so the federal government could include this information in a national gun license registry.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo recently formed an eight-member panel to study the state's gun laws and make recommendations to the Legislature.

Wallace said the need for such a panel only demonstrates the complexity of the current rules.

"We need to reform the gun laws to make them understandable by citizens, law enforcement and prosecutors, because right now they are so convoluted there is no one in the state that has those answers," he said.

Wallace said he would consider backing Patrick's call for sharing mental health information with the federal government if the bill was rewritten to include only those people who had been determined by the courts to be a danger to themselves or others. As currently written, he said people who had been confined overnight for something as simple as a bad reaction to medication could be denied the opportunity to own a firearm.

Democrats Markey and Lynch alluded to Wednesday's gun owners rally in their joint statement and criticized the three Republicans who are seeking the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Secretary of State John Kerry.

"While we may be competitors in the Democratic primary, we can both agree that it is deeply troubling to see our three Republican rivals siding more with the NRA and their activists who are descending upon Boston Common today, rather than with the President of the United States on the critically important issue of gun safety," the congressmen said.

 


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