Advocates for Safe and Sound Gun Laws (AFSSGL) held a Community Forum on Gun Violence at Temple Hillel B’nai Torah in West Roxbury on Sunday, May 19th. Approximately 50 people came to hear presentations from Angus McQuiklen of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and States United to Prevent Gun Violence and Nancy Robinson from Citizens for Safety.
Rabbi Barbara Penzner of Temple Hillel B’nai Torah welcomed the group with by reading from a statement on gun violence on the Homepage of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis. She emphasized the moral outrage that forms the foundation of all our work on gun violence. , She reminded us that silence is a form of complicity and urged us to speak out “that one not be joined with people of blood, ” quoting early Jewish Scholar Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra While passionate about the epidemic of gun violence, Rabbi Penzner also noted that she did not believe it was necessary to ban all guns. Rather, she urged us to work toward solutions that would curb the tragedies playing out every day without infringing on the rights of responsible gun owners.
Angus McQuilken emphasized that preventing gun violence is not incompatible with Second Amendment rights. “The government already draws lines,” McQuilken argued, noting that we are not allowed to have anti-ballistic cruise missiles, black hawk helicopters, or even fully automatic machine guns. Machine guns are heavily regulated, hard to get, and consequently don’t make headlines as instruments of tragedy outside the field of war. The 30,000 Americans who die from gunshot wounds every year are killed by handguns and semi-automatic weapons. McQuilken argued for federal laws to expand background checks to cover gun shows and private sales, which account for 40% of all gun sales, as well as a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
While Massachusetts has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, and correspondingly the lowest gun fatality rate second only to Hawaii, McQuilken sees room for improvement. Police chiefs in MA have the discretion to refuse handgun licenses to people they do not deem suitable, even if that person passes a background check. McQuilken would like to see this same discretion extended to FID cards for long guns. Noting that half of all gun deaths are suicides, McQuilken would like to see Massachusetts adopt a similar policy to Hawaii, where people applying for gun permits must sign a waiver for access to mental health records. While McQuilken agrees that the mentally ill are no more likely to commit violent crime than other people, he argues that they are more likely to commit suicide. However, he also reminded the audience that these were his personal views, and not the views of the organizations of which he is a part.
The Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Violence has not taken a position on the issue of background checks and mental illness.
Robert Lewis and Nancy Robinson
Nancy Robinson of Citizens for Safety spoke to the everyday tragedies of gun violence in inner cities that don’t make national headlines: “I’ve been to the open casket funeral of a two-year-old boy who was buried the way he died: in his mother’s arms. I could see the bullet hole in his little body.” While Robinson agrees that legislative change, particularly stronger background checks, would help prevent such heartbreaking violence, she argues that the people who face gun violence everyday can’t afford to wait for the law. She urges us to ask: “Where does the gun come from?” According to an article on shootingauthority, it turns out that most guns used to commit violent crime are illegally trafficked. When Citizens for Safety discovered that many of these trafficked weapons are purchased by women coerced into buying and hiding weapons for men who are barred from purchasing guns, they began Operation LIPSTICK–a peer-to-peer education project among urban women. They are working together to stop the flow of illegal guns into urban neighborhoods.
Following the presentations and a lively discussion, community members signed postcards to their state legislators urging them to support the five principles of the MA Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.