Police Commissioner: ‘I Want To Have Discretion Over’ Who Can Have Guns In Boston

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william evans

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans took advantage of his time before the city’s public radio audience last week to explain his support for a State legislative measure that would allow local police to decide who can or cannot be licensed to own long guns. As his quoted remarks make clear, it all boils down to a simple feature: control.

The Democratic-tilted State Senate voted 28-10 last week to strip language in a gun bill already approved by the House that would have granted local police forces the discretionary power to determine who can obtain long guns. It’s a power local police already have over those who choose to inform the State of their desire to obtain a handgun.

Police issue firearms identification cards (FIDs) to people who’ve passed a background check. In the case of handguns, Massachusetts law currently allows local police to deny a carry permit to someone who’s been issued an FID — if the police indicate a concern for how that person might use the gun. The Senate rejected a provision that would have included long guns in the police dragnet.

Evans sat for a phone interview last Wednesday with two sympathetic broadcasters from public radio juggernaut WGBH, expressing his disappointment with the Senate’s decision and urging legislators to reconsider:

A lot of times we know background information on people that, you know, whether they’ve been involved in domestic incidents or, you know, some mental issues, you know based on the totality of circumstances sometimes we can say ‘deny’ — and if we don’t get this legislation in, you know, people can go down and we have no say in them getting an FID card.

… A lot of people do not have criminal records, obviously, but there’s other issues going on in their lives that we’re aware of, and based on the knowledge we have, I think we should be able to determine the suitability of who should possess a gun, especially here in the city.

… There has to be restrictions because people should have a legitimate reason for possessing them.

… For the most part, nobody in the city needs a shotgun; nobody needs a rifle, and I don’t know a lot of people who are into hunting who — being lifelong residents — would actually want that who lives in the city, but, especially here in the city I want to have discretion over who’s getting any type of gun, because public safety is my main concern and, as you know, it’s an uphill battle taking as many guns off the street right now without pumping more into the system.

After the Massachusetts Senate stripped the language, Democratic Governor Deval Patrick aligned with Evans and the other police chiefs pushing for the expansion of police powers over FID licensing to include long guns. “I side with the police chiefs who were here yesterday and the law-enforcement officials, that the House version is the stronger of the two,’’ he said the day after a gun control rally at Beacon Hill.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.