Blanchard: More states should match Bay State gun laws

By Frances Wychorski
Citizen Chronicle Writer

BROOKFIELD — A grassroots organization hosted the local police chief on Sunday afternoon to talk about gun control laws in Massachusetts.

Brookfield Police Chief Michael Blanchard spent the afternoon in the Brookfield Inn Bed & Breakfast’s hearth room for a public conversation sponsored by Brookfield Indivisible. About 50 residents participated in a two-hour question and answer exchange covering topical issues on guns, gun laws and school safety in Massachusetts. Brookfield Indivisible describes itself as “a grassroots group of people from the Brookfields, Sturbridge, Spencer and Warren who are committed to unity, inclusion, tolerance, fairness, action, and the restoration of our democracy.” Brookfield Indivisible Chairwoman Trudy O’Connell said the purpose of the forum was to educate residents about the facts of gun laws in Massachusetts.

According to Chief Blanchard, Massachusetts has the strictest gun laws in the nation on who can carry, how to purchase and issuance of gun licenses. “I am very confident in the laws in Massachusetts,” he said. “The rest of the country can do a lot by coming up to our standards.”

Gun-related deaths, are some of the lowest in the nation with 3.13 per 100,000 due to suicide or accidental discharge of a firearm. The homicide rate of gun deaths is 1.9 per 100,000. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 213 firearm deaths in Massachusetts in 2015. Gun licensing is on the rise in the state with a 66 percent increase since 2010. Approximately 1 in 14 people own a gun in Massachusetts. In 2016, gun licensing rose another 7 percent.

Local police have control of who is issued a gun permit, Chief Blanchard said. He added: “There are some things that can be improved, especially how mental health concerns are made known to local law enforcement.”

Currently, information on a person that is confined for 72-hour emergency restraint and hospitalization because they threatened to harm themself or others is not available, per state law. Chief Blanchard said “if the incident occurred in North Adams, it is not a searchable record for law enforcement. This information can help in the determination of suitability to issue a firearms license. He said this area could be tightened up.”

In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Fla., last month, concern about gun violence at schools was addressed. “It is mandatory that public schools have four fire drills per school year. It is not mandatory to hold active shooter drills at this time,” Chief Blanchard said. He added that local law enforcement is proactive in training teachers, staff, students and parents on what to do in the event of an incident of gun violence.

“I would be a fool if I stood up here and said it is never going to happen here. This can happen anywhere. That is why we conduct ALICE drills, to minimize the number of casualties,” said Chief Blanchard. “Somebody is going to die. Our job is to prevent casualties. Being prepared as possible is the best way.”

ALICE, an acronym for “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate,” is the training technique often used for public school safety. One question was asked about arming teachers in schools. The Chief said, “if the problem is guns, people who want to add guns to the situation. I don’t think that’s a good idea at this time. I don’t see that as a solution.”

Blanchard explained the steps necessary for residents wanting to legally have a gun. The first is to attend a Massachusetts Firearm Safety Class certified by both the National Rifle Association and Massachusetts State Police. Not only will residents learn about the laws and consequences of possessing firearms, but how to safely store guns in the home. There are two permits issued by local police. A License to Carry (LTC), commonly called a pistol permit for a hand and long gun. The second permit is a Firearms Identification Card (FID) for a long gun only (rifle or shotgun).

No matter what type of permit is being sought, the applicant must apply to their local police station. A background check will be run as well as an in-house investigation to determine the suitability of issuance. The police chief or sergeant will conduct a personal interview and may check references. The applicant will receive an answer in 40 days. If denied, the applicant can appeal it to a judge with a decision made in 90 days. Both an FID and LTC expire in six years.

Residents must be 15 or older to apply for a FID with parental permission. However, long guns cannot be legally sold to anyone under 18. The state website on basic hunter education outlines, “By state law, anyone 18 years of age or older must have a government issued Basic Hunter Education certificate, from any jurisdiction, in order to qualify for their first ever hunting or sporting license in Massachusetts.” The courses are offered at MassWildlife Offices throughout the commonwealth.

Major gun retailers in Massachusetts such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops will not allow anyone to examine a gun without having the TLC or FID in hand. Chief Blanchard stated, “Dick’s Sporting Goods will not sell a long gun to anyone under 21.”

Gun laws are complex. Any gun that leaves one pair of hands and is transferred to another must be reported in Massachusetts. If the gun was bought at a private sale, gun show or out of state, the owner must report the transaction. If the gun is inherited, stolen or lost, it must also be reported. Massachusetts law requires all gun owners to report all private sales, transfers, and surrenders of firearms via the Massachusetts Gun Transaction Portal. The Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau catalogues the make, model, serial number and caliber of the gun. The seller and buyer information are recorded. It is unlawful to transfer a gun from an unlicensed owner. This creates a searchable database for law enforcement to trace the movement of guns.

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