GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 25, 2013

State gun law panel slow to form

From Wire and
Staff Reports

---- — Two months after state House Speaker Robert DeLeo promised a task force to review state gun control laws and propose solutions for reducing gun violence in Massachusetts, the panel has yet to be formed or begin its work.

Organizing for Action, a nonprofit organized to support President Barack Obama’s agenda, plans to host a rally on Friday on the State House steps as part of a national day of action calling on Congress to adopt the president’s proposals, including universal background checks for gun purchases. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and other elected officials plan to attend, according to the Action group.

But while efforts to address gun violence at the national level continue to simmer, momentum behind calls for updating state gun laws have slowed.

In a speech to House members during the first week of January, DeLeo put gun control firmly on the House’s agenda for the coming year, telling colleagues that he was “shaken” by the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

“I want to bring together members of our House and outside experts to study the dangerous intersection of guns and mental illness in schools and throughout society,” DeLeo said at the time, announcing the appointment of Northeastern University Associate Dean Jack McDevitt to lead the task force.

Over the ensuing weeks, however, DeLeo has yet to round out the membership of the gun panel while other states have acted to pass new laws and Vice President Joe Biden led a similar task force for the Obama administration and presented new gun control recommendations to Congress.

Seth Gitell, a spokesman for DeLeo, said the Speaker planned an announcement about the task force “very, very soon.”

“The invitations have gone out. A number of people have accepted and we’re waiting on others,” Gitell said.

Gloucester, ME initiatives

The delays in any gun law movements on the state level come as local communities are exploring other safety reactions in the wake of the Newtown shootings, especially when it comes to schools.

Officials in the Manchester Essex Regional School District, for example, are exploring the idea of developing a school resource officer programs that would not only provide some increase in school security, but also given students a chance to better interact with police officers in the two towns’ schools.

In Gloucester, meanwhile, parent Amanda Kesterson, who has led a petition drive generating signatures aimed at placing armed security guards in all city schools has been granted a hearing on the proposal by the city’s School Committee, with the hearing still tentative but expected to be held March 13. While many city and school officials, including Superintendent of Schools Richard Safier, oppose the idea — and estimates indicate that a full initiative of adding security personnel at each of the city’s five elementary schools, and on the middle and high school level would fall between top $500,000 and $600,000, the School Committee voted 4-2 last week to give Kesterson and her fellow petitioners the hearing they had sought as a forum to air their concerns.

Mental health records

In Boston, state Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, has taken the lead on the issue of gun control in the House, proposing a comprehensive bill that would require gun license applicants to disclose their mental health histories, prohibit assault weapons from being stored in homes, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, and require gun owners to purchase liability insurance.

Gov. Deval Patrick and other lawmakers, including Sen. Cynthia Creem, have also filed similar bills awaiting assignment to committees and public hearings. Patrick, who has offered and refiled gun control proposals, said last year that members of the Legislature appear sensitive to the concerns of the Gun Owners Action League.

Linsky previously said he expected to work to incorporate the work and recommendations of DeLeo’s task force into any final bill before it gets voted on in the House.