Jim Wallace taught his daughter how to hunt when she was 11. John Rosenthal owns two shotguns that he uses for skeet shooting. Jesse Cohen collects historical weapons.
The three men have very different ideas on how firearms should be regulated, and all three are making their voices heard in the gun-control debate roiling Massachusetts and the country.
Wallace, executive director of the Northborough-based Gun Owners’ Action League, and Rosenthal, the founder and president of a Newton-based group, Stop Handgun Violence, have been ideological foes for years.
While Rosenthal campaigns for stricter limits, using a massive billboard along the Massachusetts Turnpike in Boston to help spread his message, Wallace lobbies for gun owners’ rights at the State House and enlists supporters at local gun shows.
Cohen, a Framingham lawyer, is trying for a middle ground. After specializing in firearms law for 13 years, he started the Firearms Education Association last month with Bruce Blessington, a retired businessman who lives in Boston.
“There’s millions of dollars going into these two sides lobbing missiles toward each other,” said Cohen. “Everything’s being drowned out by the polar opposites in the debate.”
Too often, according to Cohen, the debate over guns is dominated by the extremes while a “vast silent majority” favors reasonable, common-sense regulations.
Their viewpoints will be put to the test as the state and federal legislators consider new gun restrictions.
The US Senate’s Judiciary Committee last week approved a measure expanding background checks for gun purchases, but delayed action on a bill that would ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, legislators are discussing several new proposals, including ones that would require gun owners to carry liability insurance, place an additional sales tax on guns and ammunition, and give the state more access to mental health records for background checks.
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Barely a week after December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., 20 colorful children’s handprints appeared on the 252-foot-long Stop Handgun Violence billboard on the Mass. Pike near Fenway Park. Each one represents a Sandy Hook first-grader who was killed.
John Rosenthal, 56, erected the billboard in 1995 on a parking garage he owns on Lansdowne Street.
“When I became aware that 15 kids died every day among the 106 Americans that died every day from guns, I was flabbergasted. I had no idea,” said Rosenthal, president of a real estate development and management business. “I said, ‘That’s the message. I’m going to build a billboard that says that.’ ”
Rosenthal said he favors universal background checks on gun purchases, as well as the return of a federal ban on so-called assault weapons that are designed to resemble military firearms. Massachusetts already bans such weapons, and requires universal background checks.
He accuses the firearms industry of supporting policies that increase gun violence as a way to scare people into buying more guns.
“I believe the gun industry intentionally wants to increase gun violence to increase gun sales, and they have bought off Congress to go along with their deadly scheme,” Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal said he has no desire to outlaw firearms entirely, and noted that he owns two shotguns that he uses for skeet shooting, a hobby he picked up in his early 30s. He bought his first gun when he and his wife lived at the end of a long road in Vermont.
“I felt it was good for protection,” he said. “I support gun rights strongly, but not for criminals.”
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Jim Wallace became interested in firearms after taking a hunter safety course in high school. But it was his Army experience in Germany near the end of the Cold War that helped shape his political views, he said, including “that every ounce of freedom we have, we need to maintain.”
As executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, the Massachusetts arm of the National Rifle Association, the 47-year-old Newburyport resident lobbies state legislators on behalf of his organization’s approximately 16,000 members.
“Everything that I own for firearms, other than for collection or hunting, is for defensive capabilities,” he said. “And I’m the good guy. Why would the government want to restrict how I can defend myself?”
Wallace is opposed to any new restrictions on gun ownership, saying “there’s no evidence” that such laws reduce crime.
He calls Rosenthal’s language “incendiary,” and says allegations that the gun industry wants to maximize violence are absurd.Continued...