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Gun bill change worries police

Concern regards rifles, shotguns

Massachusetts police chiefs, Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, and members of gun violence prevention groups plan to speak out Tuesday against action by the state Senate that takes away police discretion when issuing certain firearm ID cards.

The law enforcement leaders will hold a press conference at the State House to call attention to a provision that was dropped from a gun control bill last week by the Senate.

That provision would have given police chiefs discretion when issuing firearm identification cards for rifles and shotguns. The bill with that language initially passed the Massachusetts House, but was amended by a 28-10 vote in the Senate.

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A House-Senate conference committee will review the bill and seek a compromise.

“The last challenge we need is to make it easier for people to get their hands on these high-powered guns,” Evans said Monday.

“There are way too many guns in the hands of people who probably shouldn’t possess them,” he said, calling the amendment a loophole for those who want to obtain long guns such as rifles or shotguns.

The conference was organized by anti-gun violence groups Stop Handgun Violence and the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

Currently, police chiefs have the ability to issue or deny a license to carry a handgun in Massachusetts. Those wishing to obtain a rifle or shotgun, however, can purchase a firearm identification card despite opposition from police.

Edward F. Davis, the former Boston police commissioner, said he will attend the conference Tuesday.

“I think it makes sense to allow the police chiefs to have discretion both for handguns and for shotguns and rifles,” said Davis. “The people in the community who have a very good understanding of who shouldn’t have weapons are the police chiefs.”

State Senator James E. Timilty, Democrat of Walpole, has defended denying chiefs discretion on long-gun permits.

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In a previous interview with the Globe, Timilty, who is the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, said he thought the provision may violate the Constitution’s Second Amendment and urged critics to look at the entire bill.

“Calmly viewed, they will find that this is a net gain to public safety,” he said.

Timilty could not be reached for comment on Monday night.

Under the bill, Massachusetts will join a national database for criminal and mental-health background checks, as well as require schools to development approaches to aiding in students’ mental health needs.

The Gun Owners’ Action League supported dropping the measure. “The Senate bill is a true crime fighting bill that has even stronger gun trafficking penalties for criminals and tools for law enforcement,” Jim Wallace, executive director for the Action League, said in a statement. “The FID cards do not have problems under the current system.”

Erik Blake, president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said he would be attending the conference and that he was surprised by the Senate’s action. “It didn’t make sense that I’m denying [applicants] for one thing but I have to give them a FID card for the other,” said Blake, who is the police chief in Oak Bluffs. “What’s the difference between a Glock-40 handgun and a 12-gauge shotgun?”


Anderson can be reached at derek.anderson@globe.com.