By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — U.S. Rep John Tierney, D-Salem, joined city officials and advocacy groups at Newburyport City Hall Saturday in calling for more discussion on ways to stop handgun violence, while also sharing plans for new legislation designed to prevent accidental gun deaths.
Also attending the morning forum were Mayor Donna Holaday, City Marshal Thomas Howard and John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence.
“We would love this to be a nonpartisan issue, but it is not,” Tierney said. “The Supreme Court was clear that you have a right to own and possess (firearms). But it said that it wasn’t unlimited. And that the concerns for the safety of the community and children and schools, things like that, was a legitimate factor on that.
“We hope to speak here in the context of, while we support people’s constitutional right to own and possess, what reasonable limitations, if any, should we put on them to make sure that our children are safe and that our schools and neighborhoods are safe?” he asked.
As a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a 900-member coalition of mayors across the country created to combat gun violence, Holaday thanked Tierney for addressing an issue that is near and dear to her heart. She cited examples seen in the city, such as the 2004 suicide of a 15-year-old Newburyport High School sophomore who shot himself on the school steps, and Friday’s lockdown at Pentucket High School, due to what turned out to be a replica handgun found on a student.
“Violence has touched all of us,” Holaday said. “We may not have staggering amounts of gun violence in a lot of our cities, but even one violent act is one too many.
“We are not talking about taking away constitutional rights for law-abiding gun owners,” the mayor said. “What we are talking about is finding a solution, and we need gun owners at the table, having a dialogue with us. Is it wrong to require all felons and dangerously mentally ill persons who have been involuntarily committed to have to utilize a database to track these individuals?”
As the founder of the nonprofit organization, Stop Handgun Violence, Rosenthal spoke of the issue as one of a public health concern.
“We have an epidemic and let’s do something about it without banning these firearms,” Rosenthal said. “I own firearms. I love to skeet shoot. I can pass a background check and I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment. But even (George W.) Bush’s Supreme Court said that you can’t ban handguns but you can put reasonable restrictions on how they are sold.”
Rosenthal cited statistics showing the national average of 87 deaths each day due to gun violence, eight of which are children or teens.
“We have this public health epidemic in America that, if you wanted to reduce deaths and injuries from guns without any unreasonable restrictions upon law-abiding gun owners, what you would do is what we have done in Massachusetts,” he said.
Also on the panel was local gun safety advocate Ann Marie Crowell of Mothers on a Mission Inc., who shared the story of losing her 12-year-old son, Brian to an accidental shooting by his best friend on Christmas Eve 1997.
“In seeking out how did this happen, why did this happen, how could this happen, I found out that this gun that was used to kill my son was a legally registered gun,” said Crowell of Saugus. “But it was left loaded and unsecured. It could have been avoided, had that gun been locked. Had this happened today, the owner of that handgun would’ve been held responsible.
“And I just want to bring a personal level to the moms, the pops, the grandmothers, the grandfathers. You have the right to own a gun and you have the right to ask if there is going to be a gun in the home where your son or your daughter is playing,” she added. “You have the right to ask a question. And if you’re a gun owner, you shouldn’t be offended by that question. I tell people, if you’re afraid to ask a question, close your eyes and imagine yourself without your child.”
Tierney said he plans to introduce legislation in Congress this week that seeks to use modern technology such as palm print recognition to prevent accidental gun injuries in the future.
“Legislation has been filed for 20 years now,” Tierney said. “But there has been a renewed interest in it since Newtown (Connecticut) and Aurora (Colorado) and the other incidents that happened. Since the legislation is there, we want to give our constituents the opportunity to speak out on the issue.”