By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
---- — BOSTON — Like most people, Jay Lewis reacted to the news of a mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School with a mix of horror and disbelief.
The kindergarten teacher, constable, gun owner and father who attended a gun rights rally on Boston Common Wednesday said the rhetoric around new restrictive laws that followed the tragedy was the wrong course.
“It hurt at the time, and as it’s gone on and I’ve heard people use that as a reason to enforce new gun laws, it upsets me because taking away the rights of citizens is not going to help crime,” Lewis told the News Service.
Laws governing the sale and use of guns have become a focus in the months since the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., with lawmakers in Massachusetts seeking to restrict the availability of certain weapons and President Barack Obama pressing the case for new federal laws.
On Wednesday, the two Democrats seeking an open U.S. Senate seat joined together to criticize their Republican opponents in the race for positions they said side with the National Rifle Association.
“While we may be competitors in the Democratic primary, we can both agree that it is deeply troubling to see our three Republican rivals siding more with the NRA and their activists who are descending upon Boston Common today, rather than with the President of the United States on the critically important issue of gun safety,” Congressmen Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey said in a statement. “Once again, our opponents find themselves dramatically out of step with the majority of Massachusetts residents. We both understand that we can and must do more to protect our residents from the scourge of gun violence, and hope our opponents will rethink their efforts to derail our President’s agenda when it comes to gun safety.”
Earlier in the day, Rep. Dan Winslow, R-Norfolk, one of the Republicans seeking the seat, told reporters he has a three-stage litmus for evaluating gun laws.
“In any issue involving guns I ask three questions: Would it have prevented the Newtown tragedy? Will it keep kids from killing kids with illegal guns in our inner cities? And does it respect the Second Amendment rights under the Bill of Rights, and to me if the answer is no, no and no, I’m not terribly interested in it because it’s feel-good legislation that doesn’t solve the problem,” Winslow said. He said the solution “lies in fixing our mental health system.”
A New Bedford native who now teaches in the city, Lewis said he does not carry a firearm to school, and has never sought permission, though he said his life had been threatened by a father who was a gang member.
“There’s also a need to have a standardized training, which we don’t really have as a constable, and I kind of think we should, and we should have it if a teacher wants to carry, because it takes a certain amount of proficiency,” Lewis said. He also said permission for teachers to carry should be handled by the state, not individual principals, and said additional training for teachers who want to be armed in school makes sense and would alleviate concerns.
The Gun Owners Action League rally on common drew a crowd of gun rights advocates who cheered on a recitation of the Second Amendment that followed the Pledge of Allegiance. Some in the crowd carried provocative signs, one of which said “Blame these tools” next to photos of accused mass murders and “not these tools” next to photos of firearms.
One man at the rally who identified himself as John Delcord said “the government’s trying to take our guns, just like the British tried to do when we started this great country” and claimed that police know where illegal guns are located and choose not to enforce gun laws because “if you cut that out, you’d lose all the overtime and special funding.”
Lewis, who criticized legislation proposed by Gov. Deval Patrick and Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) as “not realistic” and punitive toward law-abiding citizens, said that while he does not agree with the notion that government’s taking people’s guns away, he sympathized with those who believe that.
“I can see why people are getting upset. I don’t think we’re at that point yet,” Lewis said.
Accompanied by his 11-year-old son, Lewis said that he knew from his father, a constable, how to properly turn in a gun he found as a child, and said that at a certain age children should be educated on gun safety in case they encounter guns.