Locals speak out on gun reform push after latest mass shooting

The mass shooting that left 18 people dead and 13 injured in Maine reignited calls for gun reforms across the nation — including in Massachusetts.

The shooting in Lewiston was the deadliest in Maine’s history. Police say an Army reservist opened fire inside a bowling alley and a bar last week and then took his own life. His body was found after a two-day manhunt.

Ghost guns and ghost gun parts are displayed on a table in Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office at a press event. COURTESY PHOTO

On Oct. 18, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed major gun control legislation. The final vote was 120-38. It now heads to the state Senate. Locally, gun control advocates strongly praised the House’s action.

“This comprehensive bill will close loopholes in our laws and help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” said Marblehead resident Diann Baylis, a board member of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, in an interview on Friday.

Baylis called the bill “a critical step forward” in the fight against gun violence. She has been active in the movement for years, testifying in support of Massachusetts’ red flag law in 2018.

Angus McQuilken, a longtime gun control lobbyist who helped found the MCPGV and pass the state’s assault weapons ban in the 1990s, agreed the new bill would strengthen Massachusetts’ national leadership on the issue.

“Gun violence is an epidemic in this country and Massachusetts is not exempt,” he said. “We must continue to lead with the most effective gun laws in the nation, and this bill will help achieve that.”

Opponents of gun bill

Marblehead resident Phil Mancuso, a National Rifle Association certified instructor, voiced opposition to the gun legislation, arguing it would do nothing to curb crime while harming lawful gun owners.

He did find the bill’s ban on guns in polling places, government buildings and K-12 schools acceptable. But Mancuso took issue with the bill’s expansion of the state’s red flag law allowing courts to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals deemed dangerous, saying it violates the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

“Mental health is a major crisis in the United States that is not being addressed,” Mancuso said. He argued the bill ignores the need to provide institutional mental health care, noting the state began closing mental institutions in the 1970s.

The legislation also cracks down on so-called ghost guns — homemade firearms without serial numbers. Mancuso said such weapons are already regulated by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which requires they be marked with a serial number and manufacturer information. In Massachusetts, individuals must also register homemade guns with the state.

“Criminals who will commit crimes will commit crimes,” Mancuso said. “They’re trying to scare everybody (about) ghost guns.”

Mancuso predicted the bill would drive Massachusetts gun dealers out of business because of new state licensing requirements while doing nothing to reduce crime or prevent shootings by criminals flouting existing gun laws.

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Bob Erbetta and intelligence analyst said he acquired extensive firearms training over his decades-long military career. He voiced skepticism over whether lawmakers spearheading the gun legislation understand the technical distinctions between different classes of weapons.

“They haven’t analyzed this thing from the beginning,” he said. “I think people are just spouting off sound bites.”

Erbetta calls for more nuanced solutions targeted at the root factors driving violence, rather than broad measures he sees as unduly restrictive for responsible gun owners.

While opposing major elements of the legislation, Erbetta does believe more targeted laws could help curb violence.

He voiced support for expanding the state’s red flag law, and he also felt banning guns from sensitive public places like schools, government offices and polling stations was appropriate.

“The answer is yes. That makes sense,” he said, though he argued that off-duty law enforcement should be exempt.

‘Like many parents, I am fed up’

State Rep. Jenny Armini, Democrat of Marblehead, pointed to evidence that states with the strongest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths.

“That’s not debatable,” she said. “Technology is creating new firearms and devices at a dizzying rate. Keeping Massachusetts safe requires constant vigilance.”

Armini disputed claims that the bill improperly burdens lawful gun owners or infringes on Second Amendment rights.

“I have yet to hear how any of these provisions create an undue burden on law-abiding gun owners,” she said, while defending the constitutionality of reasonable gun regulation.

Armini, one of 120 co-sponsors, also echoed the urgency.

“Like many parents, I am fed up. I have witnessed our nation transformed by gun violence,” she said. “Guns are the number one killer of kids ages 1 through 25.”

Nearly 4,000 children under 19 are fatally shot each year nationwide, according to federal data.

Armini pointed to several factors behind the bill, including a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down certain restrictions on the concealed carry of firearms.

She also cited the proliferation of untraceable “ghost guns” in Massachusetts, with state police reporting a 75% increase in ghost gun seizures in 2022 compared to 2021.

“We are in the midst of a public health crisis and it is unrelenting,” Armini said. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

Marblehead Police Chief Dennis King did not take a position on the legislation, saying, “my job is to enforce the laws of the Commonwealth, as passed by the legislators, and not comment on them or generally endorse them.”

“My opinion doesn’t matter, nor do I make it matter in my approach,” he told the Current. “Politicians can decide political issues.”

McQuilken, the veteran gun control lobbyist, argued the bill builds on a Massachusetts tradition of firearms regulation.

“We have a system that allows lawful gun ownership for people determined by police to be suitable, while screening out dangerous individuals,” he said. “This law will make that system even more effective.”

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