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Despite tough laws, types of guns used in  mass murders found in Valley communities

  • <br/>Chris Murray, the assistant store manager at Sam's in Hadley in the Sporting goods department.<br/>
  • The lock on the trigger of a shotgun sold in he Sporting goods department at Sams.  It is state law that guns sold or stored must be locked  and be kept in  a locked compartment. <br/>
  • <br/>Chris Murray, the assistant store manager at Sam's in Hadley in the Sporting goods department showing how the lock works on a Shotgun.<br/>
  • Gun sold at Sam's in Hadley in the Sporting goods department.<br/>
  • <br/>Twenty gauge double barrel shot gun sold at Sam's in Hadley.
  • <br/>Muzzle loader or primitive arms rifle sold at Sam's in Hadley.
  • <br/>Twenty gauge double barrel shot gun sold at Sam's in Hadley.
  • The lock on the trigger of a shotgun sold in he Sporting goods department at Sams.  It is state law that guns sold or stored must be locked  and be kept in  a locked compartment. <br/>
  • <br/>Muzzle loader or primitive arms rifle sold at Sam's in Hadley.

An AR-15 Bushmaster .223, the same make and model firearm used in the Newtown massacre, was among the scores of guns confiscated by Hampshire County police in 2012.

Police also picked up four Remington Model 870 shotguns, one of the guns used to kill 12 people in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting last year; a Beretta 92FS Vertec semi-automatic pistol, the same kind of gun used to kill 13 people at an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y., in 2009; and a Glock Model 19 semi-automatic pistol, one of the guns used in the Northern Illinois University slaying that took six lives in 2008 and the Virginia-Tech murders, which left 32 people dead in 2007.

All of these weapons are legal to buy and sell in Massachusetts, a state that has some of the strictest gun laws and the lowest rate of firearm deaths in the nation, despite a recent increase in gun violence.

A Gazette review of guns confiscated last year by police departments in Northampton, Amherst, Hadley, Easthampton, South Hadley, and the State Police barracks in Northampton, provides a glimpse into the guns people actually own here in the Valley, as not all guns are registered with the state’s Firearms Registration and Transfer System.

The registry tracks sales by gun dealers and transfers, but does not account for undeclared or informal gun transfers or sales, straw purchases — when someone buys a gun for a person who is not legally able to own such a weapon — or any illegal transaction.

Almost a quarter of the 118 seized firearms were guns that cannot be sold in Massachusetts. Only one of the guns in this subset — a Sig Sauer P232 SL semi-automatic pistol — was of the same make and model as those used in U.S. mass shootings. The P232 was among the guns used during the Northern Illinois University tragedy.

The most common reason police confiscated guns last year was because a restraining order was taken out against the gun’s owner or because the owner or firearm was not properly licensed. A close second was family members turning in guns following the death of a loved one.

“On occasion you come across a gun in a car stop or something like that, but usually they’re taken when someone is charged with a crime or it’s a restraining order,” said Northampton Police Lt. Ken Watson. Watson said there is a wide range as to how long police may hold on to guns before they are returned to their owners. It could be anywhere from 10 days to a year to longer.

Gun seizures are rare, but can be dangerous moments for police. They also present one of the few times when police can act to control the weapons in circulation — beyond the standard steps of evaluating requests for firearm identification cards and licenses to carry.

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said he’s not surprised guns banned for sale in Massachusetts are found in private collections. There are many legal ways residents can purchase guns not allowed for sale in Massachusetts, such as pistols and revolvers that don’t meet the state’s handgun safety requirements. Handguns can be bought out of state and owned legally in Massachusetts as long as the sale is reported to the registration system within seven days of purchase, according to the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety. Residents can also own “assault” and large-capacity weapons if they were manufactured before September 1994, when the state’s assault weapons ban on such guns went into effect, and in other special circumstances.

With the right license, it is also legal to own machine guns in Massachusetts.

While residents are supposed to list their guns with the state registry, there are few repercussions for failing to do so. The exception to this is neglecting to record a sale, which is punishable under federal and state laws.

“People who are moving to Massachusetts, they’re supposed to register their guns in this state and sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t,” Livingstone said.

Seized guns

The following are highlights from the Gazette analysis of guns confiscated by police in five Hampshire County towns as well as the local state police barracks:

∎ Of the 118 guns confiscated by police in the Gazette’s sample: nearly half were handguns, a category that includes pistols and revolvers, 31 percent were rifles and 21 percent were shotguns.

∎ At least 27 firearms among those confiscated were handguns that cannot be purchased in Massachusetts.

∎ A quarter of the firearms, 30 guns in all, were automatic or semi-automatic weapons. It is not readily clear whether any of these guns are considered “assault” or large-capacity weapons under Massachusetts regulations or if they are illegal to own because of the state’s weapons ban.

∎ Guns were confiscated because of restraining orders, failing to have proper gun licenses, the deaths of their owners, improper storage of a firearm, illegally possessing a firearm, or being a felon in possession of a gun. Guns were also taken as a result of requests for safe-keeping, charges of shooting within 500 feet of a building, breach of the peace and instances of domestic violence arrest and assault. One revolver was found in a river in South Hadley.

∎ Northampton police confiscated 44 guns in 2012, South Hadley, 35; Easthampton, 17; State Police (Northampton barracks), 15; Amherst, 6; and Hadley, 1.

∎ Guns confiscated by state troopers were more likely to stem from criminal charges than those seized by local police. Most of the guns confiscated by municipal officers were related to restraining orders and the deaths of their owners.

∎ Of the 118 guns, 56 were returned, 46 were still being held as of January, either for safe keeping or as evidence. Four were sent to a weapons storage agency in Northborough. It is unclear what the status is of a dozen guns.

∎ Among the confiscated guns, 12 were firearms of the same make and model as those used in U.S. mass shootings — events where two or more people died not counting the shooter, according to a list of all 49 massacres that have taken place in the U.S. since the Columbine High School slaying in 1999. The list was compiled in January by Connecticut’s Office of Legislative Research.

How to lose your gun

Here are the most common reasons guns are confiscated: being named in restraining orders; committing a felony; violating gun possession, storage and sale or drug laws; and confinement to a psychiatric hospital. Those events can also lead to having one’s license to carry (LTC) or firearms identification (FID) card suspended or revoked.

In addition, a person’s license to carry can be revoked, suspended or denied if he or she is deemed unsuitable to possess a firearm by the local licensing authority, usually the area’s police chief.

A firearms identification card entitles a person to own rifles and shotguns that are not considered large capacity weapons. A class B license to carry permits a person to have non-large capacity handguns, as well as rifles and shotguns. A class A license permits a person to have large-capacity firearms and feeding devices, handguns, rifles and shotguns. It also gives someone the right to carry concealed handguns. A large-capacity feeding device is a magazine, box, drum, feed strip or similar item capable of accepting, or can be readily converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition or more than five shotgun shells. A large-capacity firearm is semi-automatic gun that has a fixed large-capacity feeding device or is readily capable of accepting such a device. It also must employ a rotating cylinder.

In Massachusetts, people with restraining orders granted against them must turn over their firearms identification ID cards or license to carry until the order expires or is revoked. The confiscation usually takes place at the same time the order is served by the police. However, unless the order recipient is known to the police or the department runs a weapons check, officers are usually only made aware of the presence of firearms if the person taking out the restraining order mentions this on the application. This is also typically where officers learn how many guns a person may have and where they are stored.

“It’s not always a guarantee we get everything,” Livingstone said. “A lot of it is going by the memory of the victim. We do the best we can with the information we have.”

Confiscating guns in this situation can be dangerous. The temperament of a gun-owner and whether he or she knows a restraining order is coming can factor in to their reaction.

“Certainly any time there is domestic discord and we’re called to that situation, police officers are typically at a heightened level of awareness,” said South Hadley Police Chief David Labrie.

It can take from a few days to a year or more for guns to be returned to their owners when a restraining order is issued. Or the firearms could not be returned at all if the local police chief finds a person is unsuitable to handle a weapon. In Massachusetts local police chiefs have the authority to decline to issue licenses to carry as well as revoke them if they think a person isn’t fit to carry a firearm. Reasons a chief may have to deny or revoke a license to carry include the applicant’s mental health, stated reason for wanting the license and criminal history.

Livingstone said he’s denied license requests a couple of times. The most recent one he rejected was because the applicant was a felon who lied about his criminal background: the applicant had a past felony conviction, but denied this in the licensing paperwork.

“That’s a pretty simple one to catch people on,” Livingstone said.

But the suitability statute has its limits. It doesn’t apply to firearms identification cards, which means even though a police chief may find someone unfit to own a handgun or a large-capacity weapon, that person can still possess rifles and shotguns.

This bothers Labrie.

“I do have the subjective ability to terminate a person’s license for unsuitability, but that just means they can’t buy a handgun,” he said. “But a gun is a gun and a firearm is a firearm. ... Even though we have some of the toughest gun laws in Massachusetts in the country, there are still areas that are somewhat concerning.”

Labrie and Livingstone said they see a need to tweak state and federal gun laws. They both said the universal background checks for gun sales proposed by President Obama would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and otherwise unfit people.

Labrie also said having more access to mental health records would be valuable to police. As it is now, police can query the state Department of Mental Health before issuing a license and learn whether a person has been confined to a state hospital, but officers have no access to private mental health records or to a list of the medications someone might be taking. The information sharing network among state hospitals across the nation is inconsistent. Police cannot always get the information they need from agencies to make a determination as to whether someone is fit to carry a gun.

“The Department of Mental Health checks certainly need to be addressed,” Labrie said.

Staff Writer Dan Crowley contributed to this article.

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Legacy Comments7

No Ar-15 was used at Newtown, Only handguns..the rifle was never removed from his car... Get your facts straight please

Just as I thought. Non of you addressed the breaking and entering laws or the scum than acquire guns illegally ! Just anti law abiding gun owner crap ! The Moonbat republic strikes again !

But why would we want to heap criticism legal gun owners who can't or do not know how to secure their guns from thefts. If you are unhappy in what you call moonbat republic perhaps a red state trailer park with out gun regulations is where your heart is,

Well, I guess the article speaks for the authors views. My view is that the type of guns mentioned can be found in the majority of states. With that said one could say the article is a bit mis leading, or just speaking to facts for western Mass. Take your choice. I feel the author could have gotten the point across and spoken more to the availability of these type of guns in general.

It is not at all unusual for me to disagree with the alleged know it all. I thought the article was thourough and informative and suspect part of the criticism below is related to the length of the article. I do challenge the assumptions in the last paragraph though suggesting that there is a nexus between living with mental illness and violence. In my work over the years with the menatlly ill I did not see a correlation. There are people with menatk illness that should not have access to a gun. In more cases it has to do with the risk of self harm as opposed to risk to others. There are many many people roaming the planet with uncontrollable anger issues and impulse controls problems, that have no mental illness diagnosis. I suspect if you really wanted to limit gun violence you could make being 100% alcohol free to have access to guns. Drunks are far more randomly violent that people with mental illness. Though whether you could have working police forces with that rule in place would remain to be seen.

agree

What is the purpose of this stupid article ? Now why don't you write about how loose the "breaking & entering" laws are in Mass. Do a review of the repeat offenders ! The gazette is turning into total trash ! Wont be long now and you will be a newspaper of the past writhing this crap !

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