Thursday December 27, 2012

Massachusetts strictly regulates the sale of handguns and hunting guns, requiring buyers to educate themselves through safety courses, undergo a state and federal background check and securely lock away guns following purchase.

The pro-gun control Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in a 2011 scorecard, provided points for restrictions the group favors, and Massachusetts finished third highest in the nation.

State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, said he would be supportive of Massachusetts "revisit(ing) laws in a comprehensive way to build on it," in the wake of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.

"I do think we are in a good position in that we have common sense laws on the books and our experience should be a model for the nation," Downing said.

However, some law enforcement officials doubted what legislation could accomplish to prevent a shooting similar to what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14.

Ron Glidden, chairman of the state’s Gun Control Advisory Board, which assists in the implementation of state gun policy, said there is a limit to what could be implemented with regulation.

The Brady Campaign rated Connecticut highly for the gun laws it enacted, but Glidden said gunman Adam Lanza skirted all the rules regulating guns by simply taking them from his mother.

"Gun control won’t help that," said Glidden, a longtime Lee police chief.

Glidden, who wrote the book "Law Enforcement Guide to Firearms Law," said the public and police need laws that are simple to understand and enforce.

The state’s semi-automatic weapons "ban" is more cosmetic than a functional policy, he said. The ban regulates flash suppressers, a collapsible stock, and detachable magazines, he said.

"That gun looks the same, it fires the same, but there are just some cosmetic changes," Glidden said.

The federal legislation in place from 1994 to 2004 was criticized by Glidden and local gun store owner Pat King, of Pat’s Gun Shop, of Lanesborough.

King said the federal law provision restricting magazine capacity size was sensible, but other restrictions regulating a retractable gunstock, or gun handle, to prevent the hiding of guns, and additional restrictions on a permanently attached recoil supressor would not significantly stop shootings.

King also said that adding a bayonet was outlawed, but added, "When was the last time you saw someone killed with a bayonet?"

He said a better approach would be sensible policies that wouldn’t necessarily require more regulations in Massachusetts.

"What we need is some police work and guts to take care of the mentally ill, and we need politicians educated [on guns]," King said.

Gun policy takes many forms

Around Massachusetts’ borders are states with some of the toughest gun laws -- and also some of the weakest.

New York and Connecticut also score in the top five on the 2011 Brady gun-control scorecard, but Vermont, New Hampshire, and further north, Maine, score so low that they are not ranked at all.

Nonetheless, Vermont and Maine are some of the safest states in the nation, Glidden said.

According to public officials and websites, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont do not require permits, licenses or the registration of guns.

Connecticut requires a permit and licensing for handguns, but looser laws regulate hunting guns.

New York regulates the purchase of a handgun, but not hunting guns.

In New York, Senior Investigator Christopher Keniston, of the New York State Police, said he does not see a need for more federal or state laws.

He said the primary challenge regulating guns in five northern New York counties is staffing. Keniston said there are two employees regulating guns in five counties in northern New York.

He also said that individuals who threaten suicide or threaten to murder, but are not diagnosed mentally ill or charged "can go out and buy six guns," he said.

"With state budgets, we take significant cuts, and we’re trying to do more with less," he said.

Federal efforts in the works

On the federal level, Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a letter to supporters that she would support the reinstatement of a federal assault weapons ban.

Federal legislators are proposing a revised version of the expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban, but the Bushmaster .223 caliber rifle used in Connecticut would not have been banned, according to an ABC News report.

After the Connecticut school shootings, President Barack Obama called for "meaningful action," but has not been specific in a call for stricter gun control, other than to call on Congress to pass common-sense legislation.

He also has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a review of legislative options.