Gov. Patrick predicts movement on gun laws in new year

Matt Murphy, State House News Service
Dec. 20, 2012

Gov. Deval Patrick predicted movement in the state Legislature next session on stalled gun control legislation, drawing a distinction between weapons used for sport and hunting and those designed first and foremost for military use.

During his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio appearance, Patrick also did not take a position on Treasurer Steven Grossman’s review of whether the state should divest its pension fund assets from gun manufacturing corporations, and defended state tax breaks given to Smith & Wesson. The Springfield gun manufacturer is receiving $6 million in tax breaks running from 2010 through 2017 to bring 225 jobs to its headquarters in western Massachusetts.

“I don’t think what they manufacture is sinful. I think it’s about regulating it, again, in the interest of public safety,” Patrick during his appearance on WTKK-FM with hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.

Asked about pulling state pension fund investments out of companies that manufacture weapons, the governor said he hadn’t thought about the issue before reading it in the newspaper Wednesday. Though he said he understands why Massachusetts has pulled its investments in companies that do business with Iran, for instance, he said he wasn’t sure such a reaction was necessary in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut that has forced a closer examination of state and federal gun laws and affected gun industry business.

“It’s not like everything that a gun manufacturer makes is evil,” Patrick said.

It has been almost a week since 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into a Connecticut elementary school carrying a Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that he used to kill 20 children and six educators after first shooting his mother in their home.

Patrick will participate in a ceremony Friday at 9:30 a.m. at the Garden of Peace on Beacon Hill to observe a moment of silence for the victims of the Newtown shootings. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy plans a moment of silence at the same time, and many other states are participating in solidarity after what Patrick described as a “mindboggling tragedy.”

Patrick said that the gun used by Lanza in the Newtown massacre would be illegal in Massachusetts “with that clip” under the state’s assault weapons ban, but the governor said the state and the federal government should revisit the definitions of assault weapons included in any ban, as well as the types of high-capacity magazines that are permitted for private use. President Obama has called for a federal assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004 to be renewed.

“We have an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts and that’s a good thing, but you can still buy guns in bulk,” said Patrick, whose 2010 bill limiting gun purchases to one per month failed to win support.

He continued, “The definition really needs to reach all of these military style weapons that are not about sport or hunting but are really about mass killing and destruction. Part of that needs to get to the magazines as well.”

Rep. David Linsky of Natick has scheduled a Jan. 3 meeting to hear from his colleagues about ways to better control gun violence. Linsky says the state’s assault weapons ban includes major loopholes.

According to the Boston Globe, gun ownership in Massachusetts has been on the rise over the past five years with the number of Class A permits that allow for possession of all legal handguns, rifles and shotguns increasing 36 percent since 2007 to nearly 260,000 licenses.

The governor also reiterated his support for legislation he has filed in the past to link the state with the National Registry on Mental Health so that those records can be accessed during background checks on gun purchasers, and to close loopholes that allow guns to be sold at trade shows without a background check.

“I think it will move,” said Patrick, who talked about gun control with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray during a private meeting on Monday.

Patrick said he also ran into Gun Owners Action League director Jim Wallace at a recent event and is confident the gun lobby in Massachusetts will participate in the debate on how to “strike a balance” on gun control.

Without expressing his opinion on it, the governor mentioned how after a similar tragedy in Scotland in 1996, that country “really put their foot down” and gave gun owners a window of a couple of years to turn in their assault weapons.

On a more personal note, Patrick said he does not own a gun but has been hunting, and said his mother owned two guns and kept them in his house in Milton while she lived there before her death. Though Patrick said his wife Diane turned the guns in to Milton police after his mother died, the governor said he stored them in a lock box once he found out she had the weapons in his house.

Patrick said he did not know why his mother owned guns, but did recall how his mother had been mugged “at least once” while living on the South Side of Chicago, and how after he had moved out of his Chicago house an intruder broke in while his sister was home and fired at her before fleeing.

“We’ve experienced violence in our own lives. I still believe that limiting access, particularly to assault weapons, is something we can and should do,” he said.