By Colleen Quinn and Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON -- A statewide gun-owners group that worked alongside gun-control advocates to broker a compromise on gun-violence-prevention legislation expressed anger Wednesday over being slighted by the Patrick administration when they were not invited to a major ceremony where the bill was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick. The governor later apologized.
The Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts blasted Gov. Deval Patrick for not inviting the group to the bill-signing ceremony. Such signing ceremonies are often an opportunity for bill supporters with different interests to come together in a show of unity around a particular matter.
Jim Wallace, executive director of GOAL, said the bill was the first in the nation where both gun control and gun-rights advocates came together to agree.
"So much for celebrating the historic nature of this bill," Wallace said in a statement after the ceremony. "We worked tirelessly on this bill and were instrumental in getting it passed -- and he can't invite us to the bill-signing ceremony? This just proves that gun owners in this state are, and will continue to be, regarded as 2nd-class citizens just because they choose to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights."
Wallace previously called the legislation "phenomenal" because it covers aspects of mental health, school safety, crime, and addresses the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a federal database used for determining eligibility to purchase a firearm in the United States.
Massachusetts was one of seven states that did not provide mental-health commitment status information to NICS.
Asked immediately after the ceremony about GOAL, Patrick said "of course" he was glad for the organization's support of the bill and said he hadn't noticed representatives from the gun-owners' rights group were not there.
Asked if GOAL was invited, Patrick said, "You'd have to talk to somebody else about that. I don't know. I hope so."
Later, after signing an environmental bond bill, Patrick said he does not know what happened, and was upset they were not invited.
"Somebody somewhere dropped the ball," he said. "And I know that the team has issued an apology, and I apologize. They were part of getting a good bill."
Terrel Harris, spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, said in a statement, "GOAL was an important partner in crafting the gun-safety legislation that Governor Patrick signed today. We have spoken directly with GOAL Executive Director Jim Wallace to apologize for the oversight of not including them in today's program."
Patrick signed the major overhaul of the state gun laws that lawmakers agreed to in late July. The legislation (H 4376) gives police chiefs new powers to petition the courts to deny shotgun and rifle permits, and enhances school safety and suicide awareness efforts. It strengthens background checks for gun sales. Under the law, fines for failure to report a lost or stolen firearm are increased.
House Majority Leader Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, who was on the six-member conference committee that wrote the final bill, said the issue "really defines who were are as a Commonwealth, and as the governor said so eloquently, this is an issue that we can't stand idly by and ignore."
"It was with an awful lot of tension, and an awful lot of give and take with the Senate that we came up with a bill that I think will stand the test of time, that is an outstanding piece of legislation that gets at the multi-faceted issues around gun violence," Mariano said. "It isn't us trying to take away guns. It isn't us trying to define mental illness. It's everything. It is a sort of stew of issues around gun violence that I think we can all be very, very proud of."
The bill's signing prompted Congresswoman Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, to appeal for action on gun legislation in Washington. Saying "states can't do this alone," Clark said in a statement, "It is unacceptable for another life to be lost to gun violence while Congress sits on its hands. Speaker Boehner should allow the U.S. House to vote on reducing gun violence."
The National Rifle Association opposed the Massachusetts bill prior to its passage, arguing government officials could abuse discretionary licensing powers granted under the legislation.
During the ceremony, Patrick was flanked by Democrats and Stop Handgun Violence founder John Rosenthal. Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democratic candidate for governor, introduced state Treasurer Steven Grossman, her rival on the campaign trail who has criticized her for not supporting a measure that would limit the number of gun purchases a person could make in one month.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who assembled a task force last year to look at the state's gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012, said the law would be sturdier than others around the country hastily passed after the shooting.
DeLeo called it a "consensus bill" that he hoped would "withstand time."
"There have been other states across this country who tried to pass so-called gun laws, and I guess a more quicker fashion. Many of those laws have since been repealed, they've since been overturned in court, and in some cases many of them were never able to be taken up for a vote," said DeLeo.
Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, said there have been 74 school shootings since the Sandy Hook massacre, and in almost all of them a shotgun was used. He said Massachusetts has the lowest firearm-fatality rate in the United States and the most comprehensive gun laws in the nation.
Bolton Police Chief Vin Alfano, from the Mass. Association of Chiefs of Police, said the chiefs worked very hard with different groups for "common sense" aspects of the bill. The school safety provisions included "finally gives police departments the clout to have school resource officers in the schools."
"A lot of people put a lot of work and a lot of effort into this bill," Alfano said.