The governor, the mayor of Boston, and representatives of the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners’ Action League testified on gun control legislation in a packed and often tense Beacon Hill hearing room Friday. But when the parents of two first-graders killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shootings stepped to the witness table, a heavy hush fell.
Mark Barden said that the pain of losing “our sweet little Daniel” had only intensified since December.
“This summer has been long and hard,” he said. “The children were home from school, and Daniel’s absence was profound.”
Nicole Hockley recalled the agony of seeing her son Dylan in a casket, of having his sundered clothes returned to her, of listening to the silence of her older son playing alone, without his little brother.
“I was not prepared for this pain in my life,” she said, “and it is my most sincere wish that no other parent ever has to experience this heartache.”
The Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security is preparing to draft firearms legislation in the coming months. The committee held hearings across the state before Friday’s session at the State House, which lasted all day and into the evening, and drew hundreds of people on both sides of the issue.
There is agreement that some changes are necessary, that, for example, Massachusetts needs to do more to keep guns out of the hands of those who are dangerously mentally ill, but many disagreements remain. The issues are complex, and the details of a proposal appear to be far from being worked out.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, said his organization proposed a sweeping rewrite of what he said were convoluted, complex, and sometimes contradictory gun statutes. He said his members support getting tougher on those who have or use guns illegally, for example, and providing tax incentives to encourage gun owners to store their weapons more safely.
But other suggestions, he said, would not prove acceptable.
“There should never be a limitation on how many rounds a lawful citizen is allowed to have when defending their lives or the lives of their loved ones,” he said, to applause.
The NRA has labeled as egregious many proposals, including new restrictions on private gun transfers , microstamping ammunition, and mandatory liability insurance for owners.
But John M. Hohenwarter, a state liaison for the group, said the NRA agrees with Governor Deval Patrick that Massachusetts courts should send mental health records of people determined to be a danger to themselves or others to the federal database gun sellers use to determine if someone is eligible to buy a gun.
“We’d like to do something about it, working with the administration,” he said.
Among the parents and relatives of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School — the victims included 20 children and six adult staff members — Barden and Hockley have traveled across the country this year to advocate for stricter gun laws.
Barden praised Massachusetts for its relatively strict gun laws. But he and Hockley urged lawmakers to embrace what they called common-sense changes to make it harder for criminals and people with mental illness to obtain guns, to require background checks for secondary gun sales, and to crack down on illegal trafficking of guns.
“If these sensible steps can help save lives, why wouldn’t we take them?” Hockley said. “It doesn’t matter if we are gun owners or not, whether we’re Republicans or Democrats. We love our children, and it’s that common bond that joins us in all of this.”
After their testimony, Hockley and Barden spoke with Kim Odom, whose 13-year-old son Steven was shot in the head on his way home from playing basketball with friends near his Dorchester home in 2007, a crime that horrified the city and prompted city and state leaders to redouble efforts to curb violence.
“We were sharing our hearts,” said Odom, who with her husband, Ronald, are co-pastors at True Vine Church in Dorchester. “We can’t dismiss the fact that this is impacting all of us from all walks of life, no matter what race, what religion,” she said. “We need to have a unified voice.”