Bay State Chief Gets Tough on Violent Youth

AS Americans wrestle with heightened concerns over guns and violence, political leaders across the country are calling for action.

In Massachusetts, Gov. William Weld (R) is the latest political leader to advocate tough anticrime measures. His push for new gun-control laws and the death penalty comes in the wake of two recent murders of Massachusetts police officers. In another episode, two gunmen opened fire in a Boston roller-skating rink last month, injuring seven teenagers.

``Massachusetts needs laws that keep guns away from teens and puts gun traffickers in prison where they belong,'' said Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci in a statement.

Governor Weld's ``guns and gangs'' legislation targets juveniles with guns. It calls for a ban on assault weapons and increases penalties for crimes involving firearms. The law would also:

* Punish those who illegally sell or distribute guns with penalties starting from three years in jail to life imprisonment.

* Establish a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases.

* Raise the legal age from 18 to 21 for handgun purchases.

* Increase the penalties for sale of guns to minors.

* Limit the purchase of handguns to one a month.

* Make gun theft a felony and increase penalties for those who have received stolen guns.

The governor has not always been a strong gun-control advocate. In fact, he was backed by gun-owner advocates in his 1990 campaign and opposed a ban on assault weapons at the time.

His new position on the ban is due, in part, to a 1992 shooting spree at Simon's Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington, Mass., according to Weld spokesman Virginia Buckingham.

Weld originally filed his bill last September but the Legislature didn't approve it.

BESIDES strict gun-control laws, Weld is also pushing a broad anticrime package. Some provisions include the death penalty and mandatory life sentences for repeat violent offenders. The so-called ``three strikes and you're out'' proposal - supported by President Clinton at the federal level - would impose an automatic life sentence for criminals who commit three violent felonies.

Some criminologists say Weld's measures are too strict. James Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston, says the ``three strikes and you're out'' proposal is too inflexible and will strain the criminal-justice and prison system.

``I understand the desire to insure that violent criminals receive sufficient punishment and to keep dangerous people off the street. But this is not the way to do it,'' says Mr. Fox. ``What the judges need to do is to make the punishment not just fit the crime but fit the criminal, and `three strikes [and] you're out' doesn't do that.''

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