Gun debates roiling Beacon, Capitol Hills

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STATE HOUSE — As Massachusetts members of Congress joined a protest on the floor of the U.S. House Wednesday over the refusal of GOP leadership to allow a vote on gun control, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said similar state-level bill could remain bottled up this session.

DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, supports the idea of denying a gun license to anyone on the federal government’s terrorist watch or no-fly lists, but was hesitant Wednesday to promise any action on the measure this session, which ends in just over a month.

The bill filed earlier this year by Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead was shuttled into a study in March by the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, and that committee’s chairman, Rep. Harold Naughton of Clinton, has “raised some concerns relative to some federal issues that may come up,” according to DeLeo.

DeLeo said he intended to talk with Naughton about his concerns and the “prospects” for getting the bill out of study for a potential vote in the House, but seemed less than confident about its prospects for passage.

“It could. I’m not going to say it’s likely, because I just want to hear from the chair exactly what issues there are. If there are federal issues in the sense that would really prohibit it, then I don’t want to waste anyone’s time for the sake of making a statement, but for me it just seemed to make some sense,” DeLeo told reporters.

Ehrlich told the News Service that the massacre at an Orlando nightclub had reignited interest in her bill, which enjoys the support of not just DeLeo but Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican. “Hopefully this is a sign we are reaching a tipping point towards meaningful action,” she said.

While only New Jersey has enacted a similar law, other states are reportedly working on legislation. One concern could be how to handle residents who have been improperly added to the federal watch lists.

DeLeo said any bill would have to allow for some type of appeal process, but The Gun Owners Action League opposes the bill, saying that it “would do away with due process for MA citizens who appear on one or more of the federal watch lists.”

Naughton’s office did not return a call seeking comment on Wednesday.

Meanwhile in Washington D.C., U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark helped organize a “sit-in” of Democrats on the House floor demanding a vote on gun control measures.

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Senate rejected several Democrat and Republican-sponsored gun control amendments after leadership in that branch conceded the votes after a filibuster by Connecticut Sen. Christopher Murphy.

One of the amendments, sponsored by Sen. Diane Feinstein of California, would have banned nationally the sale of a firearm to anyone on the terrorism or no-fly watch lists. Though the votes fell along partisan lines, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey called the vote an important step “for accountability” that could be used by Democrats during the upcoming election cycle.

Markey, along with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and members of the state’s Congressional delegation, joined in the protest at the Capitol on Wednesday that U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy said had been organized by Clark, Rep. John Lewis and others.

Kennedy, in remarks delivered on the House floor, told the stories of Massachusetts residents who have become victims of gun violence.

“We here are blessed with the capacity to do something about that, not to limit or take away the pain that already exists, but to ensure that some other family out here doesn’t have to say goodbye to a child that they walked to school in the morning and have them never come back. We have that opportunity. We have that responsibility. All we need is a vote,” Kennedy said.

U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano said that while the Orlando mass shooting, which became the deadliest in American history, deserves attention there have also been at least 77 people killed with guns across the country since that night.

Citing polls that show high support among the national electorate for the “no-fly, no buy” proposal and what Capuano called “gaping holes” in the gun sale background check system, the Somerville Democrat said he was “embarrassed” for the House after the Senate voted.

“For us to not take action, in my opinion, is indefensible,” Capuano said, adding, “Put it on the floor. I would respect someone for coming up and voting no. I would disagree, but at least they wouldn’t be able to hide behind their own political rhetoric that somehow people like me are trying to pull guns away from them.”

— Written by Matt Murphy

Copyright State House News Service