Watertown Police chief sued over gun permit
WATERTOWN, MA -
Burt Greenberg is taking the chief of police to court.
The longtime Watertown resident said Chief Edward Deveau is breaking the law by not renewing his gun license. The chief said Greenberg hasnâ€™t passed the proper safety requirements to do so.
After his 75th birthday in May, Greenbergâ€™s gun license expired. While applying for a new one, the police department declared him â€œunsuitableâ€ to carry a firearm. A letter from the Deveau claimed Greenberg did not provide updated certification from a safety instructor in order to renew his Class A license.
But Greenberg said there is a Massachusetts state law that says he doesnâ€™t have to.
That law is under Chapter 140, Section 131, claiming that people â€œlawfully possessing a firearm identification card or license to carry firearms on June 1, 1998, shall be exempt from the provisions of this section upon expiration of such card or licenseâ€¦â€
For the past 50 years, Greenberg said he has had a gun license, but does not consider himself a â€œgun nut.â€ He hasnâ€™t fired a gun in years, but owns three of them
Greenberg has gained recertification in the past by attending a safety class run by an instructor every four years or so.
Cost for classes can range from $125 to $250, said Deveau, which can be a burden for some. The license itself costs $100.
â€œIâ€™ve already passed the state inspection,â€ Greenberg said. â€œI wonâ€™t take another course I am clearly exempt from.â€
But Deveau said Greenberg should abide by the same policies as every gun owner in the community. According to the departmentâ€™s Web site, all license applicants must submit written verification; two letters of reference; describe their reason to want to carry a firearm; provide proof of residency; and certification of a membership in a bona fide gun club when applying for a target-shooting license.
Watertown Police officers receive the â€œrefresher courseâ€ a minimum of once per year.
â€œWe have a strict but fair policy,â€ said Deveau. â€œWe treat everyone exactly the same.â€
In a letter to Greenberg, Deveau stated the policy was implemented â€œin order to ensure the safety of both the licensed holder as well as other members of the community.â€
Another letter, dating back to June, warned Greenberg that since he failed to provide such documents, it is illegal for him to possess a gun in the commonwealth.
â€œYou must immediately turn our firearms over to a properly licensed individual, a gun dealer or the Watertown Police Department for safekeeping,â€ read the letter. â€œFailure to comply may result in confiscation of any and all firearms and result in criminal prosecution.â€
Since then, Greenberg has handed his guns over to a friend who is a licensed gun owner.
â€œI wonâ€™t sell my principles,â€ Greenberg said. â€œThe police chief is not above the law no matter how noble he claims his motives are. Itâ€™s troubling he appears to act in defiance of the Massachusetts Legislature.â€
According to Greenbergâ€™s attorney, Keith Langer, the renewal of his â€œlicense to carryâ€ should be an uncomplicated matter.
â€œThe chiefâ€™s decision should be overturned,â€ Langer said. â€œIf he treats everybody the same, [Deveau] should apply the uniform state standards.â€
A hearing will be held on Oct. 19 at Waltham District Court.
In Brookline, one resident is going to court with a similar mission.
Morton Bardfield, a longtime licensed gun owner, fought against the Brookline Police Departmentâ€™s requirement to obtain additional safety certification â€" such as a range test â€" to determine â€œsuitabilityâ€ to renew his license in carrying a firearm.
Brookline District Court found in June that local police could not impose additional requirements.
â€œIt shouldnâ€™t be up the chiefs,â€ said Barfield about certification requirements. â€œThey should recommend it.â€
The decision has been appealed to Norfolk Superior Court on grounds that the court system misinterpreted the state statute.
In Greenbergâ€™s case, he hopes a ruling in his favor would allow him to legally possess his personal firearms.
â€œOnce in a while Iâ€™ll clean them, look at them and remember,â€ he said, noting that he was a competitive target shooter. â€œI canâ€™t now. The guns represent something for me.â€
His wife, Pat Gold, although certainly not a gun enthusiast, feels the same and supports him. The couple is willing to pay the penses to fight through the court system.
â€œItâ€™s the right thing to do to protect civil rights,â€ she said. â€œHe needs to speak for the people who are afraid or canâ€™t do that.â€