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Hundreds Turn Out For Mass. Gun Law Hearing

BOSTON — Gun law reform took center stage on Beacon Hill Friday, as a committee wrapped up a series of public hearings on proposals to tighten the state’s gun regulations. It’s an effort that gained urgency after last year’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Hundreds turned out for the hearing. It featured testimony from Gov. Deval Patrick, lawmakers, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, gun control opponents and supporters, and the parents of two of the young victims of the Newtown shooting.

The governor said safe communities are a cornerstone of educational and economic opportunity in Massachusetts.

“This is not about taking away anybody’s rights,” he testified. “This is about affirming everybody’s right to live in safety and without fear of violence.”

He’s pushing several initiatives, including creating new categories of gun crimes and raising penalties. Private gun sales, Patrick says, should be completed under the oversight of licensed gun dealers. And he says that the state must start reporting mental health information about gun buyers to the federal government.

Massachusetts is one of only seven states that does not provide information about whether a would-be gun purchaser has been committed to a mental health institution. And even some gun rights advocates agree that should change.

There were almost as many gun rights advocates in the audience as there were proponents of stricter gun control. Framingham resident Steven Babbitt says Massachusetts lawmakers should recognize that law-abiding citizens aren’t the problem.

“There are some firearms that I would love to be able to purchase, but I can’t, and it’s very frustrating,” he said. “I am sure all the criminals love all the gun laws, because they don’t obey them anyway. So what’s the difference if you add a few more gun laws?”

The Public Safety Committee is considering some 65 gun reform bills, and plans to winnow those down to one omnibus bill.

It’s not clear how quickly that may happen. House Speaker Robert DeLeo says the committee should wait until after a gun law taskforce he created last year issues its report, possibly by next month.

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