|By G. Michael Dobbs|
HOLYOKE – State Rep. Harold Naughton brought an informal edition of his state-wide series of hearings about the new legislation on gun control to Holyoke on Sept. 6 and was given a clear message by gun owners: don’t enact laws that punish legal gun owners.
Naughton is the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. He is also running for lieutenant governor.
Unlike the recent hearing in Springfield on the same topic, this one was much more informal with Naughton going around the room and asking the 20 or so people gathered what their thoughts were on gun laws in the Commonwealth. He noted that 65 bills have been filed in the wake of the Sandy Hook, Conn. shootings and most of them address the issues of gun safety, school safety and mental health.
Naughton was joined by state Reps. Aaron Vega, Brian Ashe and Donald Humason Jr., as well as Holyoke Police Chief James Neiswanger.
Naughton told the audience members, “I don’t think you’ll have anything to fear when this latest legislation comes out.”
He continued by saying the major themes of the 65 bills include how news schools would be designed to make them safer from intruders; mental health issues; trafficking in illegal weapons; and examining the licensing process in Massachusetts.
Ashe said state officials have listened to both sides and the Commonwealth has not acted “haphazardly” like other states.
Neiswanger told the group “there are so many guns in our culture, it’s impossible to get rid of them.” He stressed he is not interested in infringing on any gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.
He noted that most guns used in crimes have been stolen, purchased in other states or purchased at gun shows.
The chief noted the Massachusetts law that imposed a mandatory one-year jail term for the procession of an illegal gun is used more of a bargain point in pleas negotiations than it is to automatically put people in prison.
Neiswanger said Holyoke police are making 3,000 arrests a year.
“We can’t incarcerate everybody,” he added and called on developing new strategies.
“Poverty, gangs and drugs are the things that give rise to negative behavior,” Neiswanger said.
Hampden County Clerk of Courts Laura Gentiles said that mandatory sentencing laws “cripple a judge’s hands” and prevent them from trying to do the best course of action in a case.
“Circumstances are different in every case,” she said.
Charlie O’Connell of Holyoke told the state representatives “ the responsibility of government is to regulate arms in a properly law manner” and that the “average gun-owning public is living under a tyranny of laws.”
Holyoke resident and businessman Dave Greenberg said he has been a gun owner since the age of 13 and that he frequently carries a gun. He believes that by doing so his life has been saved twice.
He opposes effort to change the size of a magazine by asking, “Why should I have a smaller magazine than a criminal?”
Michael Moriarty, who has served on the Holyoke School Committee for 13 years and is the president of the Olde Holyoke Development Corp., said his organization manages 300 units of low income housing in the city. He feels the gun issue is one of enforcement.
“We’re not suffering from a shortage of laws in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” he said.
He called for the legislation to supply resources for the enforcement of current laws and for the General Court to focus on mental health issues.
Noting the frequency of gun violence in the city’s neighborhoods, Moriarty said, “Shots fired is part of the quality of life affects a child’s well being.”
Todd Healey, who identified himself as a Holyoke firefighter and a Marine Corps veteran, said the current climate concerning guns makes a lot of us feel our government doesn’t trust us.”
He added, “The laws affect the guys who are already following the laws.”
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