Dorchester Reporter
Lauren Dezenski, Reporter Staff

Jun. 4, 2014
Community activists say that Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s newly unveiled gun-violence prevention bill is a good-faith effort, but, they say, there is more it could do to address the realities of armed violence in neighborhoods across the state.

Speaking on Monday before a hearing at the State House on Tuesday, Nancy Robinson, Operation LIPSTICK (Ladies Involved In Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killings) founder, identified two specific tweaks to the bill that would “address the realities of urban gun violence”– enable the state to trace every gun used in a crime with a transparent and accessible database and expand education efforts for women, who are often manipulated into buying guns for men who otherwise would be unable to do so.

“I know there’s a provision in the bill that talks about general improvements to that data collection system,” to track guns statewide, Robinson said. “But lawmakers have an opportunity to really firm that up, to say that we mandate that every gun used in every crime everywhere in the state gets traced and goes back to a system that is transparent where everyone can see where these guns are coming from.”

Additionally, Robinson said, educating women about gun violence, as Operation LIPSTICK seeks to do, is important, and cheaper than the alternative. “It’s much cheaper to educate a woman than to lock her up,” Robinson said. “That cost effectiveness will make good sense to people across the state. It also speaks to people’s humanity.”

“Let’s dry up the access to these guns so these kids don’t have to worry about their enemies being armed,” she continued. “Slowly disarm rather than create this arms race. These are young children living with incredible fear of being shot. Moms are worried sick as kids go out of their sight to go to school. There’s a constant state of fear and anxiety permeating these communities.”

That fear is present in communities across the state, too, according to Sarah Flint, lead outreach organizer and founding member of Dorchester-based Mothers for Justice and Equality. “A lot of us have family members living in different parts of the state experiencing gun violence. They want to put it on urban violence. But it’s violence all over,” she said, referencing domestic violence and suicide, which, she said, is more common in suburban and rural communities.

Flint attended state Rep. Russell Holmes’s B-3 community meeting last week where DeLeo stumped for his sweeping legislation. Shaped by a year of community outreach, legislative feedback, and a high-profile task force and study, the bill comprises 51 sections dealing with everything from school safety to reducing gun trafficking in communities across the commonwealth.

“My catch is that we have to start holding these legislators accountable,” said Flint, whose 15-year-old son Jimmy was stabbed in 1981 in a fight with a 17-year-old boy over a new dirt bike that Flint had bought for her son’s birthday. They “need to listen and need to pay attention. They support the NRA better than they support families.”

Supporters and opponents of DeLeo’s bill packed the Gardner Auditorium for a chance to testify before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.

A number of the bill’s opponents criticized the so-called “suitability clause” that would expand police chiefs’ discretion in granting licenses, the State House News Service reported. “To expand something that has been so widely abused is simply unconscionable,” said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League. The organization had hoped to support the speaker’s legislation, Wallace said, but could not because of this provision. “The burden must be and should be on a government official who wants to remove my constitutional rights,” not the individual, Wallace said, citing the Second Amendment.

State Rep. Harold P. Naughton Jr. said lawmakers had heard stories about discrepancies with police chiefs granting licenses between towns across the state during the bill’s public hearings. The joint committee chairman said that language and transparency around standards for police chiefs’ would be addressed as the bill moves forward.

Gov. Deval Patrick, who dispatched his public safety secretary, Andrea Cabral, to the hearing and the anti-gun violence rally beforehand, called DeLeo’s bill strong, but said it could go further by adding a provision limiting gun purchases to one gun a month. State Treasurer Steve Grossman, a Democratic candidate for governor, testified at the hearing and afterward told the State House News Service that he supports the governor’s one-gun-a-month provision, unlike fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Martha Coakley. She spoke at the hearing in support of the bill and called for additional federal action against gun violence.

For Nancy Robinson, Sarah Flint, and others, DeLeo’s bill offers the possibility of doing more to prevent violence in a state already known for strict gun laws. “We’re always mopping up the mess,” Robinson said. “We have an opportunity to make some changes.”