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Committee’s tie vote derails gun control bill

Backers call it a way to reduce street violence

By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / June 10, 2010

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A legislative committee has rejected on a tie vote a bill by Governor Deval Patrick to limit the purchase of firearms, angering supporters who say the measure would be a crucial step in stemming gun violence in Boston.

The Joint Committee on the Judiciary’s 4-to-4 vote does not kill the bill. But the prospects for another vote in the near future seem far from certain.

Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, House chairman of the panel and a Chelsea Democrat, said he would like to resurrect the measure but other bills, such as one to change the Criminal Offender Record Information law, known as CORI, take priority.

“I don’t diminish the significance of the importance of this piece of legislation,’’ he said.

The setback was a blow to supporters, including the committee’s Senate chairwoman, Cynthia Stone Creem.

“I’m disappointed,’’ said Creem, a Newton Democrat. “This is a really important public safety matter.’’

The vote came as the state and the city of Boston grapple with the shooting deaths of two 14-year-old boys in the same month.

A 10-year-old girl was shot in the leg over the weekend as she played outside her Roxbury home. She is expected to survive.

When the committee last week agreed to poll members about the bill, that sparked hope among supporters there would finally be a vote — more than a year after Patrick introduced the proposal in May 2009.

The bill included several measures to tighten background checks and restrict ownership, including preventing people from buying more than one gun a month.

Proponents say that the measure would make it more difficult for gun traffickers to purchase weapons in bulk through so-called straw buyers, legitimate buyers hired to purchase large numbers of guns at once, then sell them illegally on the streets.

The shootings in Boston “make it more urgent to do something,’’ said state Public Safety Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan. “It’s gotten to the point where it’s just epidemic really.’’

Almost 2,000 illegal guns were recovered last year in the state, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The agency traced 1,084 of those weapons. Of that amount, about 36 percent came from Massachusetts dealers and stores licensed to sell guns.

The bill would not affect gun dealers and stores, Heffernan said.

But Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, a Northborough-based organization opposed to the bill, said the proposal unfairly targeted people licensed to buy guns who have done nothing wrong.

“It blames them for crime,’’ he said. “It’s taking a group of citizens that is following the law and placing the blame at their feet for the actions that are taking place in the city,’’ he added.

O’Flaherty said he had similar concerns, but voted to send the bill to the House so it could be debated.

Creem disputed the tie vote, saying two Senate votes in favor of the bill were not counted. Creem said she learned minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline that more senators had voted yes. But shortly after 4 p.m., O’Flaherty’s office sent a tally showing a tie to the clerk, making that count official.

O’Flaherty said he did not learn about the additional votes until almost an hour after the poll closed.

“It was a simple mistake,’’ he said.

Creem said she was concerned yesterday when the House did not move to send the bill immediately back to committee.

“We don’t have very long,’’ she said. “It’s hurting the chances to pass as the [legislative] session gets later and later.’’

Nancy Robinson, director of Citizens for Safety, a Boston-based group trying to fight gun trafficking, said that O’Flaherty should move to rectify the situation immediately.

“If they know there was an incorrect vote doesn’t justice demand that legislators acting in good faith do everything in their power to immediately correct that vote?’’ she asked.

O’Flaherty said the House has other bills to pass first.

“For me, the priority is CORI,’’ he said. “Everything else is secondary.’’

CORI has passed the House and Senate, and the details are being negotiated.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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