Healey: AG lacks power to mandate gun fingerprint technology

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 20, 2014… Maura Healey, a former assistant attorney general who is now a running for AG, disputes her Democratic primary opponent’s idea that fingerprint trigger locks could be mandated on all new guns sold in Massachusetts under the state’s consumer protection law.

Healey on Thursday said the attorney general’s office does not have the authority to require it.

“I don’t see the authority for that within the office,” Healey told the News Service. “I do think it’s something that the Legislature could consider, but we have a major problem in this state with illegally trafficked guns from out of state.”

Former state Sen. Warren Tolman, the other Democrat running for attorney general, says there is latitude under the consumer protection statute – Chapter 93A – to regulate firearms, and if elected he would employ the law to require fingerprint trigger technology on all newly manufactured guns sold in Massachusetts.

Tolman unveiled his proposal in December to require the fingerprint technology on guns, and at the time Healey’s campaign did not make her available to discuss it. A News Service reporter asked her about the idea Thursday at a UMass-Boston event on corrections and criminal justice policy.

Tolman predicted his proposal would ensure that guns may be fired only by their rightful owners and noted technology already exists to require iPhone users to unlock their devices by using their fingerprints. He said his plan would “take the guns out of the hands of criminals who steal them,” guard against the use of unsecured guns by children, and prevent criminals from using police officers guns against them.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey this week unveiled a similar proposal, crafting gun legislation that would require all new guns sold in the United States to be personalized so they can only be fired by their owners or authorized users. Markey said the technology would make it harder for stolen guns to be used and reduce accidental gun deaths by making it impossible for children to fire them. Markey unveiled the legislation Wednesday at a press conference in the Grove Hall neighborhood of Boston.

After Markey revealed his proposal, Tolman issued a press release praising the freshman senator.

Healey also supports Markey’s bill, according to a campaign spokesman.

“Senator Markey deserves credit for putting the spotlight back on safer gun technology and increased gun violence research,” Tolman said in a statement. “We should be doing everything in our power to prevent more lives from being taken by gun violence. That is why on day one as Attorney General, I’ll use the authority of the office to require fingerprint trigger locks on all new firearms sold in the Commonwealth.”

Healey said the Legislature would need to pass a law to give the attorney general the power to require the technology on firearms sold in the state.

“I think it’s something that the Legislature can consider,” Healey told the News Service. She added, “It’s not something that the attorney general could make happen, but it’s something that a legislator could consider.”

Tolman argued that the consumer protection law does empower the attorney general to protect consumers. Case law on unsafe products is broad enough to permit the attorney general’s office to promulgate regulations that would require smart gun technology, Tolman said.

“Is this aggressive? Yes. Can it be done? Absolutely,” Tolman told the News Service Thursday.

“We have been first in the nation in a number of other ways. And we will be the first in the nation again,” he added.

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings in 2012, lawmakers have described gun legislation as a priority for this legislative session, yet a gun bill has not emerged for debate in either branch.

Lawmakers on the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee held public hearings around the state on the topic, and Speaker Robert DeLeo appointed a special task force that recently released its report with 44 recommendations to lessen gun violence. The recommendations include bringing the state into compliance with a federal database law and giving police chiefs the ability to determine the “suitability” for someone seeking a firearm identification card – which allows people to own rifles and shotguns.

Healey said her focus is on the root causes of gun violence and added Massachusetts has a problem with guns from other states – naming New Hampshire and Georgia – which would not be subject to such a decree. She said there should be more resources devoted to mental health services.

“We need to do everything we can to address and eliminate those guns, and get at the root causes of gun violence,” she said.

Before he dropped out of the attorney general’s race, state Rep. Hank Naughton criticized Tolman’s proposal, expressing doubts about the technology’s readiness for such use, and questioned the proposal’s effectiveness and practicality.

Tolman disagreed, saying, “There should be no doubt the technology is readily available.” He said Smith & Wesson proposed selling guns with the technology 15 years ago.

Naughton also said he was “quite sure” that Attorney General Martha Coakley would have unilaterally implemented fingerprint recognition technology on new guns if she could have done so using state consumer protection regulations.

Naughton has since decided to run for re-election as a state representative from Clinton.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service


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