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Massachusetts Gun Law Listening Tour In New Bedford – Where You Need a Gun

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A generic image of a microphone at a concert hall.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, was the 8th stop of the Gun Law Listening Tour. I’ve been chronicling these since March. The theme for this was “Impacted Communities 3.” New Bedford ranks as the third most dangerous town in Massachusetts.

New Bedford has that old New England sea-town feeling to it. You can feel and smell the ocean in the air. I made it to the local library to try to do some laptop work. Before the meeting, I was able to find a small mom & pop hot dog stand, where I had a couple cheese dogs and a root beer to wash them down. The meeting was held at New Bedford’s Technical and Vocational High School auditorium. The event started maybe 23 minutes late due to not having microphones for the host, Representative Michael Day, and the panelists. The panelists included Brendan Johanson from North Star Learning Center, Eric Gillbeau from The Heal Center, Renea Ledbetter from North Star Learning Center, and Tara Pacheco from YMCA in New Bedford.

It was good to see the crew of ladies from The DC Project at this meeting. There were only a few of the Moms Demand Action red shirts and only one orange shirt from Massachusetts Coalition to End Gun Violence. Several pro gun people who had been at other stops attended this one as well. A new crew in maroon shirts showed up, but I didn’t get a chance to see who they were with or what their shirts said. The overall turnout was probably the worst of all of them, with less than 30 people total.

The panelists were four local social workers. Many of them have worked together in the past on various things in New Bedford and the surrounding area. Everyone of them pointed out that the city of New Bedford is a diverse town with several immigrants who have a difficult time adjusting to the American language and lifestyle. They talked about how often both parents of the family have to work full time, usually with more than one job, in order to make ends meet. That means that children aren’t able to get the attention and care that they need. They end up getting many of their needs met on the street or in gangs.

Massachusetts State Representative Chris Hendricks, D-Mass.11th Bristol, spoke at this event. Since it was running late, he came over and spoke with the ladies from The DC Project. When Hendricks found out they weren’t an anti-gun group, he moved away from them pretty quickly. According to Hendricks, the tour was taking place because the Bruen decision “takes away discretion from police chiefs… to see who can have a license to carry and who doesn’t.” I’ve read the Bruen decision. There was nothing about the opinion that removed discretion from the police. It was about not needing to have “proper cause” to get a carry permit. These politicians have it all wrong. Or they’re just untruthful in what they say. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. We know many of them are both stupid and dishonest.

With their first opportunity to speak, every one of the speakers talked about how the state needs to give them more money for their programs. They’re dealing with gangs, repeat offenders, and people who don’t care about the laws. A theme from the panel was that the town consists of good people living in a bad area, often doing the best they can to get by. Several stories from them were about how the people they’re dealing with aren’t obeying the laws because they have to feed their families and make ends meet.

Then they were prompted by Representative Hendricks about their thoughts on so-called “ghost guns,” what is a ghost gun, what the panelists are doing to combat ghost guns and what would be their solution from a “legislative angle.” This is when their tune changed.

Johanson talked about “behavioral health services… address the criminal mindset” and work to get his participants to change their mindset on crime and gang activity. He also said they’re trying to make the idea of “possessing a firearm less lucrative” to the participants. One of the reasons he gave for why people carry ghost guns is because they want to protect themselves. Everyone has a right to self-defense, something I get, but he said they also have them to “instigate conflict.”Just for the record, the people with a License to Carry, who carry lawfully and responsibility, do not want to instigate conflict while they are carrying, or generally ever for that matter. I feel Johanson also had a Freudian slip when he said, “I know I’m supposed to bring up funding.” That to me felt like the secondary issue after going after homemade firearms.

Gilbeau admitted that he felt like “ghost guns are not new.” He talked about ghost guns, but he also in the same context discussed unserialized firearms and guns with the serial numbers “shaved off.” He thinks that the legislature and the gun manufacturers need to get together to come up with some solution, like some “uniform gun laws” across the nation. There are two ways people are getting guns, according to Gilbeau, and that is going down south where the gun laws are “more relaxed” and they’re stealing them to eventually get on the street.

Ledbetter admitted that earlier that day she looked up some of the application process to get a License To Carry. She was shocked when she found out that, with a parent’s consent, a 15-year-old could get a Firearms Identification card, a hunting license, and start carrying a shotgun around. Ledbetter also talked about how there are children under 15 getting ghost guns and carrying them around New Bedford. She said she found out the hunting season was from September to May, which was “pretty much the whole year.” She said some children that were carrying handguns are as young as nine years old.

Pacheco stated that when one of the school kids says that they’re going to bring a gun to school and kill someone, that it has to be taken as a serious threat. She also emphasized that funding was an issue and was asking for more money.

I noticed that one panelist called the people he works with as “participants” and said they end up “behind the wall.” One can infer that participants are criminals and the wall is jail. I get that they’re still humans, deserve some respect, and maybe it’s better in the long run to not call them all criminals, but rather say they’re in jail. But, it really is making things sound better than the truth. He said he’s working to change their mindset in those in government care to not want to own something illegitimately. I guess that’s a step in a better direction. They also try to emphasize, according to him, that they try to let them know that if they really do have an interest in firearms with a criminal record, it’s going to be very difficult when they get older and out of jail.

Renee Gagne, from The DC Project, brought up that the 600,000 residents with Licenses to Carry bring in $60,000,000 in fees to the state and asked what the state is doing with that money, because it isn’t going to educate the public about gun safety.

Kerrie Ann Auclair, also from The DC Project, recognized that this is a horrible position for the parents and the children in these situations, with all the crime in the area. But at every listening tour stop, they’re talking about “illegal firearms,”criminals getting back on the streets, and the panels do not have a consistency of experts in each of the fields to actually address the issues. It seemed that at stop, particularly, the panelists didn’t know anything about firearms except that there are guns that the criminals…er…participants are getting in their hands.

There were a few of the red shirts at this stop and they made their regular points of wanting five hours of live fire to get a Firearms Identification Card or License to Carry. Gillbeau said that we need to be able to put others in the community in the other set of shoes and see that “99% of the people who are engaging in this illegal behavior would rather be doing something else.” I doubt that they’re putting themselves in the shoes of the ones going through the process to get a License to Carry.

I took the opportunity to speak and I wanted to combat much of the poppycock that they were spewing. I started off by pointing out that Pacheco brought up that the kids saying they’ll bring a gun to school needs to be taken seriously, but then she said that if she called their parents and said the kid was going to bring a gun to school, that the parents would “kill her” for doing that. I had to say that she couldn’t have meant the parents were literally going to kill her and that it was probably her mis-speaking. Addressing Ledbetter’s concern about 15-year-olds getting a Firearms Identification Card and hunting, I asked if hunting was an issue with teens in New Bedford. She had no reply, of course. I stated that if teens were taking hunter education courses, then they would learn the firearm safety rules and what it’s like to harvest an animal and field dress it. For the mismash of terms including serial numbers shaved off, unserialized firearms, and ghost guns, I had to inform Gillbeau that they’re all different things and have different meanings.

This stop of the Gun Law Listening Tour had a particularly low turnout rate. I would have assumed that due to the topic and the town, there would have been more people there, but that wasn’t the case. I didn’t feel particularly positive about the panelists and the topic of firearms being paired, as none of them really had any knowledge about firearms. Their subject matter was in dealing with people committing crimes, getting firearms illegally, and trying to educate the participants about the ramifications of having a firearm illegally. Given the selection of speakers, community intervention would have been a better focus rather than firearms. If the legislature is going to take into consideration what they’ve been seeing and hearing, looking into this stop isn’t a good one for the pro-gun side.

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