Governor urges passage of firearms bill
Governor Deval Patrick recalled the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old Boston boy in urging legislators yesterday to adopt a bill that would stiffen penalties for firearms offenses and create programs for at-risk youths aimed at diverting them from a life of crime.
“These stories are repeated too often throughout the Commonwealth,’’ Patrick told the Joint Committee on Judiciary, referring to the fatal shooting of Steven Odom, who was gunned down while walking home from a basketball court in Dorchester in 2007.
Several days after Odom’s death, an 18-year-old who authorities believe was the shooter was fatally shot by yet another teenager.
“I’ve heard people say that Steven and others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,’’ Patrick said. “How can we accept that playing with friends in front of your own front porch is the wrong place?’’
Patrick filed the legislation in May. It creates two specific firearms statutes - assault and battery with a firearm, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and assault with a firearm, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Both would add years to the punishment allowed under the catchall charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, which carries a maximum 10-year sentence, and assault with a dangerous weapon, which carries a 30-month term.
The bill would create a “felon in possession’’ law and mandate lengthy sentences for second and subsequent offenses. Those sentences would range from two to 20 years.
There is also a stipulation under the proposed laws The proposed legislation also stipulates that sentences run consecutively, not concurrently, to any other crimes that were committed during the same episode. For example, a person convicted of assault and battery with a firearm in the commission of a home invasion would be required to serve both sentences without overlap.
“The governor has recognized the major problem of youth violence involving firearms in the inner city,’’ said Daniel F. Conley, Suffolk district attorney. “Frankly, it’s been perplexing. . . . Law enforcement and the various communities have been trying to get a handle on the problem for a long time, and when we seem to make strides, we suffer setbacks. This is an excellent tool aimed at maintaining order, and I enthusiastically support it.’’
Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, the state’s secretary of public safety and security, also testified in support of the measure.
“This bill also focuses on the positive intervention in the lives of young persons who have a history of violence, or who are identified as being in the highest risk for engaging in violence,’’ she said.
That outreach would be accomplished through a $10 million grant that would create education and counseling services and job opportunities for youths who have been identified by police, the courts, and other law enforcement agencies as being active perpetrators of violence.
“There’s a strong belief that given support and resources, they can be redirected and reengaged in positive activity,’’ said Marilyn Anderson Chase, the assistant secretary for Children, Youth and Families at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
In her testimony, Heffernan cited a recent State Police report that says that from 2006 to 2010, 511 people were killed by firearms in the Commonwealth, 204 of them under age 23.