The Recorder – Legislature’s listening tour fields

GREENFIELD — Ranging views on gun control were aired at Greenfield Community College Tuesday evening as part of the state Legislature’s listening tour on the controversial topic.

Before introducing a panel that included representation from law enforcement, firearm dealers and instructors, and recreational firearm users, state Rep. Michael Day, D-Stoneham, shared that he was tasked by House Speaker Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, to conduct a comprehensive review of the state’s gun laws.

“We have a strong network of laws that encourage responsible gun ownership and a common-sense system that preserves our residents’ constitutional rights while also ensuring the safety of our community,” Day said. “The system, as we all know, is far from perfect.”

Tuesday’s stop at GCC was the third of nearly a dozen scheduled stops to focus on different aspects of the state’s web of laws and regulations relating to firearms.

“Our communities face challenges that are far from novel,” Day said. “Issues such as suicide, domestic violence, drug-related and organized crime have been with us for some time. … Yet we also hear from responsible gun owners, collectors and hunters, that say the laws in our books are confusing and outright contradictory, that compliance is challenging, especially as neighboring states have completely different approaches.”

Panelists included Hadley Police Chief Michael Mason, who serves as president of the Western Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, gun shop owner Toby Leary and retired Environmental Police Officer John Pasak.

“Our Chapter 140 with Massachusetts firearms laws is extraordinarily confusing,” said Mason. “It’s very hard to learn, it’s very hard to know, and … there are some contradictory things in there.”

Mason explained the licensing process, which includes background, mental health and criminal history checks, fingerprinting and interviews. He noted that the process could be streamlined. With interviews in particular, he added, there are no guidelines detailing what local law enforcement officers are expected to ask.

Leary, who said he is required to have 10 different licenses to operate his gun shop, added that different municipalities have different standards or expectations with respect to initial licensing. He also argued the “restrictive licensing scheme” is “inconveniencing the people you don’t need to worry about” as the “vast majority” of gun owners are law-abiding and trying to do their best to obey the law — a sentiment others in the audience echoed.

“It’s maddening the minutia and the confusion of it, just so people can try to do the right thing, try to be compliant with the law,” Leary said.

While there were numerous attendees who agreed with this sentiment, others spoke in support of certain laws to strengthen gun safety. In particular, there were representatives — including some from Franklin County — from Moms Demand Action, a group that advocates for “commonsense solutions to prevent gun violence.”

Robin Neipp, of Leyden, expressed support for numerous bills, including H.2380, which addresses gun industry accountability; H.2307, which aims to expand gun violence reporting requirements; and H.2365, which would require approved safety courses for people seeking a license to carry to include at least five hours of live-fire training. Another bill, H.305, would require the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop information about secure storage of firearms, the risk of child access to firearms and suicide prevention materials.

“I really appreciate the panel today and I appreciate the listening tour,” said Neipp.

Others in the audience shared concerns that guns have become the No. 1 cause of death in children. One woman encouraged the responsible gun owners in the room to lend their voice to the issue, improving education.

A majority of those who spoke during public comment, however, argued that more laws aren’t going to “stop criminals,” but rather punish “law-abiding citizens.”

“Do you honestly think pushing more laws through is going to stop the criminals?” asked Gill resident Greg Parody.

Several residents said that when illegal guns are confiscated in relation to violent or drug-related offenses, they’re often not the first offense of the person involved.

“In Hadley and in western Mass, with the exception of major cities like Springfield, we don’t come across illegal firearms very often,” Mason commented. “When we do, it’s usually … a dangerous situation. I’ll echo what [Pasak] said: a lot of the people we come across, this is not a first-offense situation.”

There was also a consensus among some that there are external issues that need to be considered in the conversation on gun violence, particularly mental health.

Taunton resident Renee Gagne speaking as a member of the DC Project: Women for Gun Rights, said she was grateful for the opportunity to be in a room filled with people offering diverse views on the subject.

“We may not agree, but we all want the same things,” Gagne said. “We want safe communities and we’re looking for effective solutions for that.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.

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