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Baker sidesteps taking position on gun control provision

Charlie Baker.

Jessica Rinaldi For The Boston Globe

Charlie Baker.

The state Democratic Party today criticized Republican Charlie Baker for dismissing the significance of a gun control provision designed to give police chiefs authority to keep rifles and shotguns out of the hands of people they consider dangerous.

In an interview on NECN Tuesday, Baker declined to say whether he supported that provision, which was included in an anti-gun violence bill passed by the House, but was stripped out by the Senate.

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The host, Jim Braude, pressed the gubernatorial hopeful: “Should police chiefs have that discretion?”

“I don’t think that matters, Jim,” Baker replied. “The real issue here is: They need to do a bill. And they have an opportunity. And I hope they don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.”

By not declaring his position on the issue, Baker avoided wading into an emotional fight between gun rights activists and police chiefs, who strongly support the provision, and gun rights advocates, who say the measure infringes on their Second Amendment rights.

Negotiators for the state Senate and House of Representatives have been wrangling over the different versions of the bill, as a deadline for action approaches. Thursday is the last day of formal legislative sessions.

The provision would give chiefs discretion to deny firearms identification cards, required to buy shotguns and rifles, to people they deem unsuitable — discretion they now have on licenses to carry handguns.

The heavily Democratic Senate, in a 28-10 vote earlier this month, stripped out the provision giving chiefs the added authority for long guns, with at least one senator expressing concerns about its constitutionality.

Matt Fenlon, the executive director of the state Democratic Party knocked Baker in a news release.

“Voters are seeing the real Republican Charlie Baker, someone who refuses to take a position on tough issues and tells voters it doesn’t matter what he thinks,” he said in a statement.

Senator Thomas M. McGee, chairman of the state Democratic Party, voted against the amendment stripping out the disputed provision from the bill.

Rallying at the State House last week, police officials said chiefs should have the added discretion on rifles and shotguns. They said the weapons are just as deadly in the hands of the wrong person as a handgun.

Gun rights activists have said chiefs sometimes use the discretion they already have for handguns arbitrarily and note people already need to pass a background check and meet certain basic requirements to get a firearms identification card under current law.

In the TV interview, Baker expressed support for some measures included in both bills, such as the state joining a national database for criminal and mental-health background checks and increased penalties for certain firearm crimes.

After an inquiry from the Globe, a Baker spokesman, Tim Buckley, released a statement.

“Charlie made it clear he wants a strong bill to stop gun violence before the end of the legislative session and refuses to resort to partisan attacks that will only derail a bill from ever becoming law,” Buckley said. “If Charlie’s opponents are so concerned about stopping gun violence, they would join him in urging the legislature to come to a compromise before the session ends.”

In the interview, Baker also touched on a number of other issues from the ongoing crisis at Market Basket (“In the end, I don’t think elected officials should be stepping into the affairs of privately-held, family-run businesses”) to the $1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (“I do believe that the folks over at the South Boston Convention Center are going to have a lot to deliver on as this thing moves forward.”)

Baker also discussed his ideas for hiring reforms following a federal jury finding former Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien ran the department like a criminal enterprise, handing out jobs to the politically powerful for his own personal benefit.

Baker said he was doing well in public polling because he was promoting a reform agenda that means something to voters.

“So far, I am the only person who has put a proposal out on what to do about the culture on Beacon Hill and the issue about people getting jobs they are not qualified for. I would like to see one of my opponents put out a proposal out with respect to that,” he said.

Baker faces a GOP primary against businessman Mark R. Fisher on Sept. 9 and is expected to be his party’s standardbearer in the Nov. 4 general election.

Also running to succeed Governor Deval Patrick are three Democrats and three independent candidates.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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