Massachusetts legislators weighing dozens of proposals to reduce gun violence held a public hearing in Springfield today. They heard from people concerned about the loss of life, and also from people concerned about the potential loss of their livelihoods.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno declared that illegal guns is the biggest issue facing urban America. Sarno, the first speaker at the daylong public hearing, urged state legislators to crackdown on the trafficking in firearms. The mayor said high capacity guns should only be in the hands of the police and the military. He voiced frustration with a judicial system that he believes is often too lenient even with repeat offenders of gun crimes.
Sarno and Springfield Police Commissioner William Fitchet both called for stricter background checks for gun purchases to keep firearms out of the hands of people who are mentally ill. It was a call echoed by several other speakers.
The legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security is holding a series of public hearings across the state this summer. More than 60 bills on gun issues were filed by legislators in response to the school shooting in Newtown Connecticut last December.
The venue for the Springfield hearing, a 500 seat theater at American International College, was filled to capacity at the start of the hearing. Roughly half the seats were occupied by Smith & Wesson employees who wore white tee shirts with the company logo.
Steve Danneker, a product engineer at Smith & Wesson said he’s concerned about both his livelihood and his Second Amendment rights.
The CEO of Smith & Wesson, James Debney, speaking at the public hearing, said the Springfield based gun manufacturer employs 1,600 people with an annual payroll of $ 77 million. He urged the legislators to focus on school safety, uniform handgun licensing procedures, and improving mental health background checks.
Dain Perry of Boston, a member of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, criticized gun makers for opposing bills that would require fingerprint activated triggers and GPS devices to locate stolen firearms.
State Represenative Harold Naughton, a Democrat from Clinton, who is the co-chair of the public safety committee, said the hearings have produced a lot of thoughtful ideas on a complex and emotional issue.
He said the committee is on track to recommend a comprehensive bill for debate in the legislature this fall.