In Boston, Petition Aims to Ban Firearms for Those Under 21

A SUMMER neighborhood Caribbean Festival is interrupted by a spray of gunfire, sending crowds scrambling for cover. City police and emergency vehicles rush to the scene. Nine people are injured.

This incident, the result of the attempted robbery of a gold chain necklace, happened Saturday in the city neighborhood of Dorchester. Gangs may have been involved; one arrest has been made.

The shooting is one reason why gun-control advocates here are pushing hard for a stiff gun-possession law in Boston. The legislation, called a home-rule petition, would ban anyone under 21 from owning a firearm. It would also make it a crime to sell a gun to anyone under 21.

``This home-rule petition ... would give police an additional tool to legitimately stop and investigate people who objectively appear to be under the age of 21 and carrying a firearm,'' says Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph Martin II.

Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have enacted similar laws, says Deahdra Butler-Henderson, president of Citizens For Safety, a city crime-watch group.

For Boston, the home-rule petition would increase penalties for the possession or sale of handguns. Fines would be raised to $1,000 and jail terms increased to up to 2-1/2 years.

The measure can become law only if is it passed by both houses of the Massachusetts legislature and signed by the governor. Gun-control advocates say, however, that there is little opposition and expect it to be signed within a month.

City Councilor David Scondras, a co-sponsor of the measure, says 20 young people in Boston have died since January. Half of those individuals were shot by someone under 21, he says. Even Bay State Gov. William Weld (R), who traditionally opposes gun control, says he will sign it.

``This isn't an easy issue - 18-,19-, 20-year-olds with guns,'' says David Lowy, the governor's deputy legal counsel. ``There is a level of maturity involved and responsibility involved. And [this legislation] is a way to get at a problem.''

Gun-control advocates, like Ms. Butler-Henderson, are pleased by the bipartisan support. Her group sponsors an initiative, Buy Back Boston, that buys back guns. The program - begun in June by Citizens For Safety, the Boston Police department, and the district attorney's office - will buy back any gun for $50. So far, it has cleared 1,050 guns off the city's streets, she says.

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