Gun control advocates in Westborough call for common ground with opponents
By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Speaking at the Forum on Preventing Gun Violence at Congregation B’nai Shalom in Westborough Oct. 13, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D- 2nd District), said there needs to be a broader coalition of responsible gun owners to lessen gun violence.
McGovern called on gun owners to “stand up” to extremism “by taking a public stand on sensible legislation that doesn’t take away their constitutional rights.”
The congressman also repeated a call for tighter restrictions on sales at gun shows, mandates for background checks, and bans on certain types of weapons. McGovern decried the failure of the House and Senate to provide stricter gun regulations in wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, blaming pressure from “extreme” elements of the gun lobby.
“It is the extreme elements of these groups that are calling the shots. [National Rifle Association Executive Vice President] Wayne LaPierre, I think, is nuts, and I know people in the NRA who cringe whenever he stands up,” McGovern said.
McGovern said moderate congressmen need “political coverage” against voter and gun lobby backlash to allow them to “vote a different way.”
“People in Washington fall all over themselves to see who is the most extreme,” he said, adding: “We have a gun lobby that gets nervous when doctors ask patients if there’s a gun in the house. Even that’s controversial, and that’s not even about changing the law.”
“Our challenge is to reach out to those people who are gun owners in an effort to take responsible steps to prevent gun violence,” McGovern said, in order to “depolarize” the debate over gun control. “The mainstream is not represented in Washington and not represented in our laws.”
He continued: “I do respect the Constitution. I’m not saying take your firearm away, but there are responsible constraints on freedom. … We’re talking about rationality and what’s reasonable. In this debate, those two things have been sacrificed.”
Whether McGovern can be the man who reaches out to gun control opponents is questionable. McGovern has an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association, according to VoteSmart.org, and from the Northborough-based Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL).
Efforts to reach a GOAL representative for comment were unsuccessful.
“My plea here is we need to figure out a way to broaden our coalition, to start bringing in people who have a differing opinion but have a lot in common with us,” McGovern said.
Dr. Michael P. Hirsch, a pediatric specialist at UMass Memorial in Worcester and founder of that city’s Goods for Guns firearm buy-back program, also spoke at the forum. He began the program in 2000 to allow firearm owners the opportunity to exchange their weapon for gift certificates. Since then, the buyback, held every December, has collected more than 2,000 firearms and distributed more than 750 trigger locks, according to UMass Medical Center’s website.
Hirsch said his inspiration comes in part from the memory of a colleague who was shot and killed in 1981. Since then, however, Hirsch said that American society has become “almost immune” to news of mass shootings such as the Newtown Massacre and the recent shooting at the Washington shipyard.
Hirsch praised the city of Worcester for having the lowest rates of penetrating trauma injuries per capita of any Massachusetts city. He attributed Worcester’s success to what he called an “extremely progressive” police department that is “very selective on who gets a gun permit.”
Hirsch also added that he “had nothing but respect for responsible gun owners,” adding that gun ownership is “intrinsic to America’s pioneer heritage.” However, he decried the level of unsecured firearms that exist.
David Hemenway, a professor of Health Policy and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, said that attitudes –”social norms” must change in order for gun violence to abate. He used America’s changing attitude over the decades toward automobile safety as a comparison. Roads and vehicles have been made safer to help compensate for driver error. Meanwhile, pressures against drunk drivers increased through grassroots organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“Thirty years ago, drunk driving was considered OK,” Hemenway said. “Then we had a real social movement.”
Hemenway also criticized the U.S. for having the most permissive and weakest gun laws in any democratized industrial country.
Many who spoke at the forum, like Hirsch, had their lives touched by gun violence. Ilyse Levine-Kanji, chair of the Westborough School Committee, said she lost her grandfather in 1977, and her mentor, Jack Berman, in the infamous 101 California Street shooting in 1993.
“The gun lobby is vocal, but the majority want to support reasonable gun safety legislation,” said Levine-Kanji.
B’nai Shalom’s Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz said that there was a “moral and ethical obligation to speak up and act” regarding gun violence.
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