Yvonne Abraham

A lethal gun battle

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / June 17, 2010

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Will it really kill legal gun owners if we restrict them to one gun purchase a month? It may kill children if we don’t.

In some neighborhoods, it’s as easy to get your hands on a pistol as on a bag of Cheetos. We’re battling an epidemic of gun violence in this state, with 14-year-olds dying. We have to do something about gangs. But we also have to do something about guns.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced 1,000 of the illegal guns recovered from criminals and crime scenes in Massachusetts last year and found that more than a third were originally bought — legally — right here.

How did they get into the bad guys’ hands? Some were stolen. And some were acquired through straw purchases: That’s where legitimate buyers purchase multiple weapons, then sell them illegally on the street.

Legislation being considered on Beacon Hill would limit gun buys to one every 30 days, making it impossible for traffickers to buy in bulk in Massachusetts. It wouldn’t solve all our gun problems — not even close — but it would certainly help limit the local supply line.

Law enforcement officials, including the Boston and New Bedford Police Departments, and the Bristol and Suffolk district attorneys, believe this will save lives.

A vote-counting mixup nixed the bill last week.To his credit, House Speaker Robert DeLeo has revived it. This is no mean feat: The powerful Gun Owners Action League, the local outpost of the National Rifle Association, hates the bill.

“I call it the lawful citizens imprisonment act,’’ James Wallace, executive director of the gun owners’ league, told me at the State House this week. He says it’s outrageous that his law-abiding wife won’t be allowed to buy two shotguns at a gun-shop sale any more.

“Where are the straw purchases?’’ he asked. “Nobody has come to us with any evidence.’’

Wallace is being cute here. For years, it has been almost impossible to trace patterns of gun sales, and resales, because of federal rules his NRA helped put in place: Those rules prohibit the ATF from releasing information about how a gun made its way from factory to crime scene, shielding manufacturers from lawsuits.

Gun advocates like Wallace are Second Amendment absolutists. They think the right to bear arms means the right to do so without limits. They’ve fought every attempt to put restrictions on guns here and nationally, pouring gazillions into a Congress which has done their bidding for years, and putting immense pressure on state lawmakers, who are mightily spooked by them.

Suggest that the Second Amendment might not mean completely untrammeled access to guns, and talk turns to camels and tents. Question any of the freedoms enjoyed by gun owners and you’re only inches away from the government coming into our homes, confiscating our weapons, and subjecting us to a dictatorship.

We are now seeing the ridiculous but logical extension of that position in Washington: Incredibly, the NRA is supporting gun rights for suspected terrorists, opposing a federal law that would prohibit people on federal terror watch lists from buying guns. More than a thousand people on the watch list bought firearms between 2004 and 2010, and the NRA defends their right to keep doing it.

This is crazy. By failing to give even a fraction of an inch on their reading of the Second Amendment, the NRA imperils the safety of all of us.

The same is true in Massachusetts. Some gun enthusiasts feel they need to buy more than 12 guns a year. Some parents in our besieged cities know they need fewer guns on the street. We live in a world where we have to find a reasonable balance between those needs.

This bill is it.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at

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