Gun Safety Activists Rally At State House

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Police chiefs and gun safety activists are pressing state lawmakers to give the chiefs discretion over issuing firearms identification cards needed to buy rifles or shotguns.

Former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis spoke at the Statehouse rally Tuesday and recalled how a man he had issued an FID card killed an 80-year-old and then held police hostage using a shotgun.

Davis said he only learned later the man had mental health problems. He said the House version of the bill, which gives police chiefs more discretion on issuing FID cards, could have helped him prevent the man from obtaining the gun.

The Senate version of the bill strips out that discretion.

Davis' successor, Police Commissioner William Evans, also said he opposes the Senate language.

"It doesn't give us the ability to stop people from possessing rifles and shotguns ... who aren't suitable persons to have them," he said, adding that police are sometimes aware of ongoing domestic violence problems or mental health issues that should be used as red flags before issuing FID cards.

The founder of Stop Handgun Violence, John Rosenthal, also spoke at the rally and faulted the Senate for stripping the FID provision out of the House version of the bill.

Gun rights activists, including the National Rifle Association and the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League, have praised the Senate, arguing that the House bill would give police chiefs too much authority.

The House and Senate bills agree on many other changes.

Both would create a Web-based portal within the state Executive Office of Public Safety to allow real-time background checks in private gun sales, stiffen penalties for some gun-based crimes and create a firearms trafficking unit within the State Police.

The House and Senate bills also would require that schools have access to two-way communication devices with police and fire departments and mandate that Massachusetts join the National Instant Background Check System, which requires the state to transmit information about substance abuse or mental health commitments to a federal database for use by police in reviewing firearms applications.

It's now up to a six-member House and Senate conference committee to hammer out a compromise bill.

This article was originally published on July 22, 2014.