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MA: Watertown Police Chief Sued Over Gun Permit

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Watertown Police chief sued over gun permit

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 hasn’t passed the proper safety requirements to do so.

After his 75th birthday in May, Greenberg’s gun license expired. While applying for a new one, the police department declared him “unsuitable†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 doesn’t have to.

That law is under Chapter 140, Section 131, claiming that people “lawfully 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 license…â€

For the past 50 years, Greenberg said he has had a gun license, but does not consider himself a “gun nut.†He hasn’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.

“I’ve already passed the state inspection,†Greenberg said. “I won’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 department’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 “refresher course†a minimum of once per year.

“We have a strict but fair policy,†said Deveau. “We treat everyone exactly the same.â€

In a letter to Greenberg, Deveau stated the policy was implemented “in 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.

“You must immediately turn our firearms over to a properly licensed individual, a gun dealer or the Watertown Police Department for safekeeping,†read the letter. “Failure 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.

“I won’t sell my principles,†Greenberg said. “The police chief is not above the law no matter how noble he claims his motives are. It’s troubling he appears to act in defiance of the Massachusetts Legislature.â€

According to Greenberg’s attorney, Keith Langer, the renewal of his “license to carry†should be an uncomplicated matter.

“The chief’s decision should be overturned,†Langer said. “If 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 Department’s requirement to obtain additional safety certification â€" such as a range test â€" to determine “suitability†to renew his license in carrying a firearm.

Brookline District Court found in June that local police could not impose additional requirements.

“It shouldn’t be up the chiefs,†said Barfield about certification requirements. “They should recommend it.â€

The decision has been appealed to Norfolk Superior Court on grounds that the court system misinterpreted the state statute.

In Greenberg’s case, he hopes a ruling in his favor would allow him to legally possess his personal firearms.

“Once in a while I’ll clean them, look at them and remember,†he said, noting that he was a competitive target shooter. “I can’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.

“It’s the right thing to do to protect civil rights,†she said. “He needs to speak for the people who are afraid or can’t do that.â€
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Thorsen said:
Can you imagine having to jump through all those hoops just to be able to own a firearm?
I can hope that I only have to imagine such a case.
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