“PRIVILEGE” COMMENT RILES GUN RIGHTS SUPPORTERS AT HEARING
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 16, 2017…..Allowing the use of silencers and the attorney general’s authority to regulate firearms were hot topics at a Public Safety Committee hearing Thursday that saw lawmakers and gun rights advocates tangle over the Second Amendment.
“It is a privilege to have a car license, it is a privilege to have a gun license,” Rep. Marjorie Decker said at a hearing Thursday. [Photo: Sam Doran/File/SHNS]
More than 100 people piled into a State House hearing room for the hearing on more than 50 bills dealing with firearms. Gun control activists congregated on one side of the room, many wearing orange T-shirts with “Moms Demand Action” or “Stop Gun Violence” on them. The other side of the room featured gun rights advocates, some of whom wore shirts bearing various slogans.
“We have some folks in this room who believe it is a privilege and we have some folks in this room who believe it is a constitutional right” to own a firearm, National Rifle Association spokesman John Hohenwarter said. “I think that’s where the fight lies.”
Hohenwarter and other gun rights supporters keyed in on a statement Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat, made at the hearing as she was testifying in support of various gun control measures and against bills she said would erode Massachusetts’ status as the state with the lowest rate of gun deaths.
“It is a privilege that we allow individuals to hold onto something that causes harm and death,” Decker said. “It is a privilege to have a car license, it is a privilege to have a gun license.”
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, said Decker’s comment illustrated frustrations lawful gun owners feel in Massachusetts.
“One of the problems that we face here in Massachusetts is that the Second Amendment is barely recognized in the state as a whole and certainly not as a civil right. I could not have asked for a better witness to that than the previous legislator that actually described our civil rights as a privilege,” Wallace said. “I am aghast that an elected official would actually say that … but that’s not unusual.”
One issue that elicited testimony in favor and in opposition on Thursday was removing the state ban on suppressors, or silencers, which attach to the barrel of a gun and reduce the sound of a bullet being fired.
Sen. Michael Moore, the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, and Sen. Donald Humason each filed bills (S 1340/S 1317) to remove the ban on the use of suppressors. Massachusetts is one of 10 states that bans gun suppressors for hunting and one of eight states that bans them for consumers.
“I see them as a tool to continue firearm safety education without having to damage your ears,” Amanda Deveno, a firearm safety instructor and GOAL member, told the committee. “It also makes it easier for me as an instructor on the line to communicate properly with my students.”
Deveno’s argument did not go over well with John Rosenthal, the founder of the nonprofit Stop Handgun Violence.
“Don’t be fooled by thinking that somehow the silencer bill is a hearing protection act. It is not,” he said. “I can tell you as a gun owner who has hunted, nobody hunts or shoots at a range without hearing protection. It’s a fraud being played on you guys and across the country.”
Rosenthal said that having the Committee on Public Safety approve a bill deregulating silencers “is like the FDA commissioner saying we should deregulate arsenic.”
American Suppressor Association President and Executive Director Knox Williams said the opposition to the suppressors bill “is pretty boilerplate, based on common misconceptions from people who have never taken the time to go out and hear a suppressed gunshot.” He said a gunshot from a gun with a suppressor attached is still as loud as a jackhammer.
Also at issue Thursday was the authority of the attorney general to regulate the sale of firearms. Last summer, Attorney General Maura Healey drew the ire of Second Amendment advocates and sportsmen when she heightened her office’s enforcement of an assault weapons ban that had been on the books for years by cracking down on copycat assault weapons.
Humason, a Westfield Republican, filed S 1326 to remove the regulatory authority for the attorney general from consumer protection laws, Humason and Warren Republican Rep. Todd Smola filed S 1322/H 1310 to strip the attorney general of the office’s authority to regulate weapons and to repeal previously issued regulations, and Spencer Democrat Sen. Anne Gobi filed S 1316 to do away with the term “copies and duplicates” in the definition of assault weapon.
Rep. David Linsky said the bills were “filed in retaliation” to Healey’s actions and urged the committee not to advance the legislation.
“The attorney general has the authority to promulgate and enforce rules on all items sold to consumers in Massachusetts, including firearms. Attorney General Healey acted within her constitutional authority as the consumer advocate to stop the sale of copycat assault weapons and protect the residents of the commonwealth from these illegal weapons,” Linsky, a Natick Democrat, said. “Stripping the attorney general of her authority to regulate firearm sales would set a troubling precedent and leave our residents vulnerable to the whims of the powerful gun lobby.”
The theme of federal inaction ran through Thursday’s hearing, with multiple representatives and gun control advocates arguing that Massachusetts cannot rely on the federal government to set rules for firearms.
“If Congress is not moved to act in the wake of events like Newtown or Las Vegas, we cannot continue to sit around and be shocked or wring our hands at their inaction. States must become the agents of their own protection,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain).