Council weighs closing loophole in Mass. gun laws

The Boston City Council is considering a home rule petition that would impose a mandatory minimum penalty for those found in possession of an unregistered gun in their home or work. Under current Massachusetts law, possession of an unregistered gun at home or work is an arrestable offense, however there is no minimum sentence imposed. The petition, proposed by At-large City Councillor Michael Flaherty, would impose a mandatory penalty of 18 months imprisonment for such an offense.

"In some neighborhoods, homes provide a safe haven from violence, in some neighborhoods, homes have been providing immunity from gun laws," Flaherty said Tuesday at a hearing by the council's Government Operations Committee.

Massachusetts law imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 18 months if a person is found to be in possession of an unregistered gun in public.

Flaherty made clear the implications of the current loop hole during questioning of Sgt. Det. Ray Mosher from the Boston Police Department.

"If I'm on the streets and have an illegal gun and the police roll around the corner, all I have to do is get into my house and I avoid the mandatory minimum, correct," asked Flaherty.

Gerry Stuart from the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office estimated that since Feb. 2006, approximately 10 percent of the cases disposed of by Boston's gun court would have been affected by the proposed change.

Also offering testimony was Jon Rosenthal, founder and chairman of Stop Handgun Violence, the group responsible for the massive anti-gun billboard along I-90 outside of Fenway Park. Rosenthal stated that the proposed change "just makes common sense" in a way that current federal gun laws do not. He praised the city council, as well as the state legislature for their work to impose some of the nation's strictest gun laws but said that without changes at the federal level, their work may be for not.

"It is national federal gun policy to allow guns to be sold in 32 states without an I.D. or background check," said Rosenthal. "With all the leadership you're providing…you are shoveling into the wind."

City Councillor Robert Consalvo, who chairs the Government Operations Committee questioned whether even an 18-month mandatory sentence was enough of a deterrent to young people who believe that they need to carry guns for protection. The current law, he stated, does not appear to deter individuals from carrying illegal guns on Boston's streets.

"I've talked to kids in my district who would rather get caught with a gun and do the year, or now 18 months, than be caught without it," said Consalvo.

The petition will move to the full city council and if approved, need the signature of Mayor Thomas Menino before being considered by the state legislature.

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