Published: July 06, 2008 05:00 am
Lawmaker looking to strengthen state's gun laws
By Edward Mason
BOSTON — Rep. William Lantigua is moving to toughen the state's gun laws in an effort to keep stolen or lost guns from winding up in the wrong hands.
Under legislation he will file tomorrow, illegal handgun possession would result in longer minimum jail and prison sentences. He would also beef up fines for owning a gun with an expired handgun license or firearm identification, and give judges the option of sentencing offenders to jail time.
Lantigua, D-Lawrence, said more and more lost and stolen guns are getting into the hands of criminals in Lawrence. He hopes the tough new penalties will scare gun owners to take seriously the need to license and lock up their weapons.
"We need to do something," he said. "People need to be responsible."
His proposal comes less than a month after the June 20 drive-by killing of Jesse Mestre, 18, of Lawrence. Mestre had once been charged in the 2007 shooting death of Lawrence High School student Jose Ramos, a charge that was later dropped.
Lantigua said he has no evidence that stolen or lost guns were used in Mestre's shooting, but stressed that those weapons are a problem in the city.
Lawrence police Chief John Romero agreed. He said much of the violence in Lawrence can be traced to stolen weapons, or guns that are bought legally in New Hampshire and sold here illegally. Romero said he backs Lantigua's bill.
Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett also supports the proposal.
"There's no excuse for not reporting a lost or stolen weapon," he said. "They typically end up in the hands of criminals. And for unlawful possession of a firearm, there should be a price to pay."
If passed, Lantigua's bill would make a number of changes to the state's gun laws.
r It would increase jail and prison sentences for unlawful possession of a firearm. Judges can sentence offenders to jail or prison, depending on a variety of factors, such as whether the person has a prior record or if he's in a gang. The minimum prison sentence would be five years, up from 21/2 years, while the shortest jail term would be 2 years, up from 18 months.
r You could go to jail for failing to report a lost or stolen weapon to police. You would get one year's probation and a $1,000 fine for breaking the law a first time. Do it again, and you would face one year in jail and one year of probation, plus a $5,000 fine. Currently, there is no jail time or probation associated with this offense, and you could get away with as little as a $200 fine.
r Let your handgun license or firearm identification card lapse? You'd get at least six months to a year in jail. Today, possessing a shotgun or rifle with an expired ID card gets you a fine between $500 and $5,000. Lantigua would make you pay between $5,000 and $10,000.
r Finally, Lantigua would require applications to renew a firearm ID card or handgun license be accompanied with a photograph of the gun's serial number.
This is the second time in two years that Lantigua has sought a way to get handguns off Lawrence streets. In 2006, he proposed allowing guns to be dropped off anonymously with the Lawrence Police Department.
At the time, Romero opposed the move. He insisted on knowing the identity of the person turning in the gun, in case the weapon had been used in a crime, a position he said he continues to hold.
But Lantigua argued that people would not hand over guns that might have been used in a crime unless they could do it anonymously.
With his latest proposal, Lantigua is working against the clock. The Legislature wraps up its formal session on July 31. Any bills not passed by then can be killed with a single vote. But he said the looming deadline doesn't worry him.
"I've seen things move at the speed of lightning in this building," he said. "And if it doesn't happen this session, I'll refile it."