Lang: Put 'teeth' in gun laws City group takes tough message to lawmakers By DAVID KIBBE, Standard-Times staff writer BOSTON New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang told state lawmakers yesterday that if they want to get serious about gun violence, they need to approve tougher laws and come up with more money. Mayor Lang appeared at a Public Safety Committee oversight hearing on youth gun violence with Bristol County District Attorney-elect Samuel Sutter, New Bedford Police Chief Ronald Teachman and Carl Alves, who coordinates an anti-gang grant program for the city. "In New Bedford, we regard guns as a weapon of mass destruction," Mayor Lang told the committee. "We think they are a weapon of mass destruction throughout our cities and towns throughout the United States." Sen. Jarrett Barrios, D-Cambridge, who co-chairs the committee, is gathering ideas for an omnibus gun-control bill that will be filed next year. He invited officials from Boston, Springfield and New Bedford, as well as state law enforcement and national policy experts. Dan Vice, a staff attorney with the Brady Campaign, which advocates for gun control, said Massachusetts needs to establish a statewide registry of legally owned guns. He also urged the state to restrict gun purchases to one per month. "The good news is Massachusetts has been a model for the nation, but much more can be done," he said. Mayor Lang called on the Legislature to put some "real teeth" in the state's gun laws. He called for stronger sentences for illegal gun possession that would be served in addition to prison time for the underlying crime. Currently, it can be served simultaneously with another sentence. He said the Legislature needs to fully fund Gov.-elect Deval Patrick's campaign pledge to put 1,000 new police officers on the street, not "for one year." Based on the city's population, Mayor Lang said it should result in a 20 percent increase in police officers in New Bedford. "It would be very, very helpful," he said. He also urged the state to make non-violence programs part of the curriculum in public schools. And he said New Bedford could use help in paying for security cameras in public areas "that will provide a real deterrent to crime in our city." D.A.-elect Sutter said criminals who attempt to shoot someone, but miss, are currently sentenced to as little as five years in prison. He called for a mandatory-minimum of seven to eight years in prison for attempting to shoot someone, and a mandatory-minimum of 10 years for shooting someone but not killing them. He said the maximum for both crimes should be life. Mr. Sutter said gun violence was the number one issue with constituents when he campaigned in Bristol County. "I think the statutes that presently exist with respect to the actual acts of gun violence are deficient," he said. "I think the state sentencing guidelines are deficient. I know, because I've both prosecuted shooting cases and defended shooting cases." He said the state should also assign a state trooper to each county to coordinate a gun trafficking task force, similar to drug task forces in the counties. Chief Teachman said the state should make it a felony to possess a gun with the serial number scratched off. And he called for state support for a ballistic fingerprint data base to track guns. The New Bedford officials were backed up by state Reps. Stephen R. Canessa, Robert M. Koczera and Antonio F.D. Cabral, all New Bedford Democrats. Rep. Cabral said the delegation could end up filing its own gun bill to get its ideas out. Rep. Canessa filed an anti-gang bill with Sen. Barrios that become law last year. In part, it set up a statewide witness protection program, toughened gun laws and provided $11 million in anti-gang grants to communities. New Bedford got $1 million in gang prevention grants, which has been distributed to 19 different organizations and agencies in the city. Rep. Canessa said curbing illegal gun use would be a major topic in the next legislative session. Last year's anti-gang law increased penalties for gang members who share illegal guns. "We always have to keep in mind the rights of legal gun owners," he said. "What I think we really need to focus on is the folks who are using and possessing firearms illegally. "Those are the folks we need to go after. Those are the folks who are causing the crimes. And those are the folks who are making our streets and our neighborhoods unsafe." Mr. Alves suggested that more could be done to turn around first-time offenders when they appear in court, before they became career criminals. "If we can get them young, it's going to stop the pipeline of gang members," he said. Howard Mabry, who does outreach work with Union Baptist Church in New Bedford, also testified at the oversight hearing. He told the committee gun and drug problems are tied together. In some cases, he said, drug dealers are paid with guns. "Where there are drugs, there are guns," Mr. Mabry said.