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As national frustration builds on guns, dozens of proposals target already strict laws in Massachusetts

A hearing was held at the State House before a Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security regarding 68 bills related to firearms.
A hearing was held at the State House before a Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security regarding 68 bills related to firearms. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The bullets flew between two cars, shattering a weekday afternoon in Cambridgeport — and it didn’t stop there. The “gun battle” moved toward Central Square, drawing marked police cars into a chase and finally, authorities say, an arrest 2 miles away.

But police said they immediately faced a frustrating reality that November day. They charged an alleged gunman with a felony because he didn’t have a gun license. But for allegedly spraying bullets into a residential neighborhood? Police could charge him with discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a building — which carries a three-month sentence.

“It’s a misdemeanor,” said Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard.

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Police and prosecutors pushed to change that Tuesday during a wide-ranging hearing that filled two rooms with advocates, legislators, and other officials, all pushing dozens of proposals designed to remake parts of Massachusetts’ already strict gun laws.

They included Bard and Marian Ryan, the Middlesex County district attorney, who asked lawmakers to subject anyone who intentionally or recklessly fires a gun — and poses a risk of injury to others — to a new felony statute that would carry up to five years in prison.

“This is a very common-sense measure that closes a gap in our law,” said Ryan, who described gunfire spewing from a car window last November as people shopped at a nearby mall.

Massachusetts lawmakers have taken several steps to pad Massachusetts’ famously tight gun statutes in recent years, including banning bump stocks, creating an avenue for “red flag” petitions, and adding the state to a national database for background checks.

But as frustration mounts over inaction in Washington amid a growing list of mass shootings, debate rages even in Massachusetts over what changes can still be made here. And there are many, according to those who testified Tuesday.

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The various bills ranged from setting up a process to analyze the data the state is collecting on firearms in Massachusetts to clamping down on “ghost guns,” such as those assembled by ordering various firearm parts, by requiring they be given a unique serial number.

The legislation was filed following another arrest in Cambridge, where police say they recovered dozens of guns after a man who did not have a license to carry firearms allegedly ordered parts from dealers across the country.

The investigation began after the Postal Service said it had delivered 75 packages to his home, with items worth about $26,000 from firearms manufacturers.

Several Boston lawmakers and officials testified that the state can also do more in preventing not just the next mass shooting, but the gun violence that already peppers its own communities.

“We do have power here today to tackle the issue of the illegal gun market, and make sure that we are taking steps to address that problem,” said state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz.

Representative Chynah Tyler, a Roxbury Democrat, filed four bills that have the backing of Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, including one that would limit most gun buyers — not including law enforcement, for example — from purchasing more than one firearm in a 30-day period.

Boston Police Commissioner William G. Gross asked lawmakers to consider two bills that he said could beef up information-sharing between police departments and allow the city to assess fees and fines on those whose cars are used to transport illegal guns.

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The city, Gross said, has collected more than 4,000 firearms in the last five years, including more than 2,800 that police consider “crime guns.”

“One homicide is too many; one shooting’s too many,” he told the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security toward the end of his testimony.

Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, argued that the state’s laws have been ineffective in preventing shootings and too often punish those who legally own guns.

A measure proposed by Representative David P. Linsky would require those seeking a license to undergo several hours of live firearms training, including shooting at least 50 rounds of ammunition. Linsky equated the state’s current gun laws to allowing someone to get their driver’s license without first taking a road test.

Wallace, however, argued that accidental shootings among those licensed to carry are rare. The proposal, he said, tries to address a “problem that doesn’t exist” and is simply another mandate on prospective gun owners.

“Please don’t regulate guns like cars,” Wallace said. “I often joke that if you come to one of our shooting ranges and you see a sign that says no texting and shooting, then you can come talk to us about firearm safety.”


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.

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