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In New Bedford, A Reminder Of The Limits Of Gun Control Laws03:11
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The Foxy Lady strip club in New Bedford was the location of an early morning shooting Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006, which left three dead, including the shooter, and two police officers hospitalized with injuries. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
The Foxy Lady strip club in New Bedford was the location of an early morning shooting Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006, which left three dead, including the shooter, and two police officers hospitalized with injuries. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

Unlike in Connecticut, where Friday's mass shooting at an elementary school left 26 dead, in Massachusetts a police chief must approve every application for a gun license.

But as police officers in New Bedford know, this requirement does not necessarily prevent a gunman from unleashing a devastating attack.

This time of year, former New Bedford Police Chief Ron Teachman is always brought back to a day six years ago.

"On December 12th in 2006, a gunman armed with an assault rifle very similar to the one used in Connecticut went into an establishment in the early morning hours, killed two of the employees there and seriously injured two of my officers," Teachman said. "I asked the question then: Why does society tolerate the manufacture and distribution of these weapons that have a singular purpose, to kill a lot of people quickly?"

Injured in the attacks were patrolmen Steve Wadman and Joshua Fernandes.

"Where do you draw the line of saying yes, certain people can have guns?"

Joshua Fernandes, New Bedford police officer

"My little one... she never knew me before I had a big scar on my face," Fernandes said. "That's something I have to live with. She never knew Dad with the face I had before the incident. She only knows me with a big pink scar on my face. That's all she'll ever know of me, unless she looks at pictures."

But Fernandes is philosophical. He sees limits to what gun control laws can achieve.

"Could it have been prevented?" Fernandes asked. "We don't know."

As police chief, Teachman had the power to license gun owners, but he had no control over the gunman.

"He lived in the nearby town of Freetown, and because he had no criminal record, he met the minimum threshold that our state and other states have to access, to acquire, to collect and to use these guns," Teachman said.

Armed with a Bushmaster rifle, the gunman had the New Bedford police officers at a disadvantage.

"We had an individual that literally had more firepower than our police department and had greater accurate range than our police department did," said Scott Lang, who was mayor of New Bedford at the time.

Even if the gunman had lived in New Bedford, Teachman says he would have had little power to keep guns out of his hands because people have a right to carry them.

"So unless you have disqualifying events in a person's life, you're pretty much bound to license them," Teachman said.

When he did deny people permits, Teachman sometimes found himself frustrated by courts overturning his decisions.

"Several of the rejections were appealed to the local court, and I believe in almost every instance the judge authorized the person to have a gun," Teachman said.

Officer Fernandes, recovered from his wounds and still serving as a uniformed officer with the New Bedford police, believes there is a need to control assault weapons.

"There has to be some sort of limit within the Constitution," Fernandes said.

But Fernandes is mindful of the rights of gun owners.

"Where do you draw the line of saying yes, certain people can have guns, or why did this person have a gun? Or how did this guy obtain a gun?" Fernandes asked. "And why did he have it? What restrictions are we going to put? If you're drawing a line on everybody's constitutional right, where is it going to stop?"

Six years after he was wounded, Fernandes is still trying to find answers to those questions.

This program aired on December 18, 2012.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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