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I understand people who consider gun rights groups like the NRA dangerous absolutists. If you’re a gun control advocate, any organization that objects to a gun control law because it might lead to an abuse of power seems like one of those “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good” deals. In other words, if one person is saved from gun crime, it’s worth a hypothetical diminution of a constitutional right. Only c’mon. A law that allows the State to imprison a citizen for 90-days without bail for simple possession of an illegal firearm? It’s no wonder that even the “we’ll decide what’s reasonable when it comes to guns” Massachusetts Supreme Court slapped down that statute back in May 2009. It’s baaaack. And the Fall River Herald News thinks you—yes you—should get behind it.

Fortunately, the state Legislature tightened the law this year, approving legislation allowing possession of an illegal firearm to trigger the dangerousness statute.

It is a law everyone should be able to get behind, including — especially — gun rights activists who often go out of their way to stress that gun owners are law-abiding patriots who are merely upholding a tradition of a free society. Guns in the right hands are tools, not weapons, they correctly insist. If their argument is to have any credibility, they must support all efforts to keep firearms out of the hands of those who would use them for nefarious reasons.

Truth be told, I kinda like the way the editorialists move on this one. If you’re for taking illegal guns off the street you’re for anything that does so. Yeah, well, I’m not so sure about that. I’m not a big fan of warrantless house-to-house searches, for example.

In practice, this law allows the state to jail yo ass for 90 days if they discover an illegal firearm in your possession. So what if I’m a Rhode Islander traveling through Massachusetts on the way to a RI gun range without a Massachusetts LTC license? What if a friend’s carrying an illegal gun in my car without my knowledge? I get to sit in jail with Bubba for 90 days without a chance at bail while the DA sorts that out?

Sure, ’cause I must be up to something bad, right?

The law in no way restricts the Second Amendment, which allows protections for legal gun owners, who have nothing to fear from this law. Because of that amendment’s protections, there is no reason for anyone who acquires a gun not to properly register and license it with the state. It can be reasonably assumed that anyone who fails to do so either isn’t qualified to own a gun (i.e. convicted felons) or intends to use it for illegal purposes and wants no trace of its existence. Either way, the government has a duty to punish them in order to deter other criminals from carrying such a deadly weapon.

Punish yes. That’s why we have things called laws and something called a legal system. Part of which is a bail process. Is there really any evidence that suspending the ancient right of habeas corpus is effective. Yes!

And the statistics support the law. Between November 2007, when [Bristol County District Attorney Sam] Sutter began strictly imposing the dangerousness statute upon illegal gun holders, and May 2009, reports of shots being fired in Fall River and New Bedford had dropped by one-third, he said. Since the Supreme Court decision, that trend has reversed. “It was working,” said Sutter, who plans to resume strict use of the dangerousness statute on Nov. 4, the day the new law takes effect.

Seriously? Shots being fired as a measure of success for a law that jails anyone with an illegal firearm? Does Sutter really believe that criminals said to themselves, “I could shoot this gun, but then I’ll spend 90 days in jail before I even get a hearing”? Of course not. But the fact that anybody believes him, or believes that anyone would believe him, is deeply worrying.

The Herald has no such qualms. In fact, they can’t wait!

It can’t come soon enough. There’s no disputing guns are dangerous by nature. In the wrong hands, the danger soars, potentially putting innocent victims’ lives at stake. Those who commit felonies or fail to license a firearm have no right to carry one. Any attempt to deter them from doing so is a welcome one.

Who’s the absolutist now?

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  1. Did the Herald REALLY end by comparing a violent felony with an expired registration, and saying it's the same? Yep. So armed robbery or murder is the same as not getting your renewal paperwork in on time? So raping a child is the same as not turning in a piece of paper and paying a huge fee? Well then. Makes perfect sense.

  2. Umm. You are dead wrong. I live in his county and the dangerousness hearings did work. It's not as if these guys are all held without bail. There IS a hearing and the judge decides whether bail should be granted. Several antecdotes are out there indicating that criminals who used to brandish illegal guns to bolster their drug dealing businesses left those guns at home because they knew if caught, they could be held without bail for up to 90 days and then prosecuted quickly and sent away to jail for two or more years. These dangerousness hearings were never intended for law abiding citizens or individuals who simply forgot to re-register their guns or were travelling through the state. This is a common sense policy that protects the rights of gun owners while punishing those who have no right to have a gun in the first place (i.e criminals!)


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