Governor Deval L. Patrick
Testimony for Joint Committee on the Judiciary
State House, Boston
Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chairwoman Creem, Chairman O’Flaherty and members of the Committee.  Thank you for your partnership with me and my administration on so many initiatives, and for the opportunity to appear before you on this next important piece of the comprehensive criminal justice reform package that I proposed earlier this year.  I’d also like to acknowledge and thank the advocates, families and members of my administration for their hard work on this issue.

Today I want to ask for your help in curbing gun violence.

In 2007, just about four years ago today, a 14-year old boy named Steven Odom was shot and killed in Dorchester coming home from playing basketball with friends.  A few days later, an 18 year old, believed to be the person who killed Steven, was himself shot and killed in Mattapan.  The killer in that case was 19. 

These stories are repeated too often around the Commonwealth.  It's not unique to any one community and it's not unique to any one city.  These events devastate families and whole communities.  I’ve heard people say that Steven and others were just “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  But how can we accept that playing with friends in front of your own front porch is the wrong place?  We are losing too many children to gun and gang related violence.  We have to act and we have to act together. 

With the help of the Legislature, there is a lot of good happening in our communities right now.  We created the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative and continue to fund Shannon Grants and the summer jobs program.  We have more robust partnerships with local law enforcement, community organizations, youth workers and faith leaders and they are helping.  But we need more tools and only you can provide them. 

The legislation before you gives law enforcement the tools they need to take the most dangerous, violent, and high-impact offenders out of our communities.  We propose three new gun-related crimes – assault and battery with a firearm, assault with a firearm, and a “felon in possession” law parallel to federal law – with serious criminal consequences.  We also propose to expand the definition of organized crime to include street gangs and drug trafficking networks -- because as criminals become more organized, law enforcement must be equipped to adapt as well. 

This legislation is part of a broader package to make communities safer and to give youth an alternative to violence and gangs.  No government, no single official, no individual faith or community leader or not-for-profit can do this alone.  But working together, with these tools and others, we can make a difference. 

Let me make clear that this bill has nothing to do with lawful ownership or lawful use of guns.  I want to emphasize that because gun legislation often seems to draw automatic opposition from certain gun lobbies.  This time, I call upon the gun lobby and those legislators allied with them to join us by strengthening the penalties for unlawful use of firearms – because everyone has an interest in peaceful communities.

Peace in urban communities is achievable.  We can stop the loss of children.  We can put an end to the fear and sadness. 

With this in mind, I respectfully ask the committee to report favorably and promptly on “An Act To Provide Law Enforcement with Tools To Prevent Youth Violence.” 

Thank you for your commitment to ending violence in our communities.