Going Great Guns: Field Notes from the State House

Remember when our state legislators were talking about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut? Back then, in January, House Speaker DeLeo said he was going to convene a task force to look into the relationship between gun violence and mental illness, and 200 legislators and staff members crowded into a meeting organized by Representative David Linsky of Natick, a leading gun control proponent, about reforming the state’s gun laws.

Since then, the action has slowed a bit. Speaker DeLeo did not assemble his task force until mid-March, and he expects that their work will take several months. The Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over gun-related legislation, including Representative Linsky’s bill, does not plan to take any action until it has held public hearings across the state, which House Chairman Harold Naughton says will run into September.

The only legislator to invoke Newtown recently has been Representative Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica). Lombardo (who was elected to the House in 2010 with support from Tea Party groups and whose National Rifle Association rating is 92 out of a possible 100) filed legislation in honor of Newtown last month that would station police officers in our public schools to increase security. Any municipal or state police officer (including part time and retired officers) who has a license to carry and is up-to-date with required training could receive a state income tax deduction of up to $8000 annually (the amount to be determined by the hourly paid detail rate in the officer’s city or town) by serving as a security presence at a school.

Many of us may have concerns that Representative Lombardo’s plan might reduce the sense of urgency about putting other, different, gun safety measures in place. But that’s a discussion for another day — now let’s just look at the money.

Supporters of the legislation say that the officers would be “volunteering” their time, and therefore the extra security would come “without a penny being paid by the taxpayers.” Well, since an $8000 state income tax deduction is worth $428, that’s not exactly “volunteering” in the truest sense of the word, even if the award is relatively modest. And how many police officers do we have? Just for starters, there are 2,300 active members of the State Police. Add in the municipal officers and retirees and it’s a pretty big number.

In their belief that any tax deduction is a good thing, tax cut champions often forget that most state taxpayers are also consumers of the state services that taxes pay for. Except, of course, when it’s time to take credit for delivering those services to their constituents. Here’s Representative Lombardo enumerating with considerable pride what he was able to accomplish for the people of Billerica in the annual state budget:

“I’m pleased to support the funding of programs critical to Billerica. Project BEAM, the Boys & Girls Club, and the Council on Aging are such important parts of the Billerica community. I’m happy I was able to secure funding that will enable them to continue serve the residents of Billerica.”

Taxpayers of Billerica: meet the residents of Billerica who benefit from important state services.

SIDEBARS: Want to see how the National Rifle Association has rated your legislators? The info is here.

Two of the statewide hearings on gun safety legislation are scheduled for noon on June 19 at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable and on June 26 at Assumption College in Worcester.

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