Council weighs proposals on illegal guns, bullets
St. John Barned-Smith | 11/19/2008, 3:49 a.m.
The Boston City Council last week discussed a pair of measures aimed at eliminating illegal guns from city streets and further reducing a declining murder rate.
The Nov. 12 hearings were called by City Councilor-at-Large Michael F. Flaherty, whose two proposals would make Boston’s already tight gun laws even less tolerant of owners of illicit firearms.
The first is a home rule petition that would impose the same sentencing penalties on individuals that keep unlicensed guns in their homes as those mandated for people found carrying illegal weapons on the street. The second would outlaw the use, ownership or sale of armor-piercing bullets by anyone not specifically licensed to use them.
Under the proposed ban, only police instructors and licensed firearm collectors would be permitted to own the bullets, which are already banned in 16 states.
Flaherty held hearings on the two laws last week in response to recent youth shootings and high homicide rates this year, according to spokesman Jonathan Romano, and to “tackle the gun violence that [is] plaguing our streets.”
“These are two proactive and common-sense measures to protect residents in every neighborhood,” Romano added.
Boston police had recovered 488 firearms, including BB guns and toys, in 2008 as of Oct. 7, according to department statistics released Monday, down from 653 during the same time period last year.
Shootings, both fatal and nonfatal, are also down slightly, according to police data. By Nov. 16 last year, there had been 303 shootings in Boston, 48 of them fatal. During the same period this year, there have been 287, with 40 fatalities caused by shootings.
There have been 54 murders total in 2008, down from 61 at this point last year. Two murders this year were caused by armor-piercing bullets, according to Flaherty’s office.
Flaherty says he wants to revise city gun laws to drive those numbers further south. At issue, he argues, is the fact that Boston residents found with illegal, unlicensed guns in their homes or businesses suffer different — and lower — penalties than individuals found carrying guns on the street.
As it stands, those convicted of possession of an unlicensed gun in public serve a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 18 months in jail. But due to a “loophole” in local gun laws, Flaherty says, those convicted of keeping the same unlicensed weapon in their home would be able to avoid the mandatory minimum penalty. The councilor’s proposed home rule petition would equalize the punishment.
“[This measure] is about ensuring that our criminal justice system delivers the same minimum penalty against unlicensed guns found in a home or workplace as unlicensed guns found on the streets,” Flaherty wrote in an Oct. 27 letter published in the Boston Globe. “By closing this loophole, we would send the message that possessing illegal guns, in any place, will not be tolerated.”
A similar petition was proposed last year, but did not generate enough support to pass. Over the past eight months, Romano said, Flaherty has continued to fight for the measures, which have received support from the Boston Police Department and Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Not everyone supports the methods Flaherty would use in his attempt to reduce gun violence, however.
Barbara Dougan, project director of the Massachusetts chapter of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), called the use of compulsory penalties like those the councilor seeks to impose “fundamentally unjust.”
“By imposing one-size-fits-all punishments on people of varying degrees of culpability, mandatory minimums undermine the principle of individualized justice,” Dougan said. “FAMM favors keeping the authority to impose sentences with the judiciary, so that courts are allowed to tailor a sentence based on the facts and circumstances of each individual case.
“Considering that Massachusetts spends $48,000 annually on each state prisoner, mandatory minimums are also very costly to administer,” Dougan added, an increasingly important consideration with the state facing choppy fiscal waters.
Area gun shops and clubs are lying low. The Boston Gun and Rifle Association, headquartered in Dorchester’s Fields Corner, declined to comment.
A representative of the club — which has a 50-foot automatic indoor target shooting range, fully-equipped training center and store that carries shooting accessories, according to its Web site — said only, “We have no official position [on Flaherty’s measures].”