By Alan Burke
---- — A federal lawsuit meant to overturn state laws restricting gun permits is targeting two local police chiefs: Peabody’s Robert Champagne and Danvers’ Neil Ouellette.
The suit, filed by Comm2A (Commonwealth Second Amendment Inc.), a gun rights group, challenges the authority of local law enforcement officers to restrict the purpose of a gun license. The six plaintiffs all say they were granted licenses limited to hunting and target shooting, but denied a license to carry a handgun for self-defense.
The suit, which also names police chiefs in Weymouth and Worcester, seeks to have the law changed by the courts and does not involve any monetary damages.
Both North Shore chiefs expressed surprise and disappointment at being named in the suit.
“I’m shocked,” said Ouellette. “GOAL (Gun Owners Action League) listed our community as a green light community. ... I can’t imagine why they picked us.” The “green light” designation, he explained, means that licenses are available to lawful citizens.
“We issued the permits within the guidelines set by the Massachusetts Legislature,” Ouellette said. The applicant, he added, “needs to be a suitable person with a proper purpose (for having a gun).”
“I’m pretty much a Second Amendment guy myself, so I’m surprised,” said Champagne. Thousands of Peabody residents, he added, now have gun licenses.
“We do exactly what the law requires,” he said. “We play by the rules. There’s a standard process and we adhere to every bit of it.”
Champagne, ironically, will leave this week for a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Executive Research Forum, to discuss “How do we solve the problems of guns in America.” Several chiefs of police will be attending.
The plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are Randy Cole Jr. in Danvers and Robert Capone and Wilson Lobao in Peabody. In each case, according to the filing, police rebuffed their efforts to eliminate the restriction on their gun license to “target and hunting” and to obtain a license to carry a loaded, concealed handgun for self-defense.
Capone reported that, “personnel in the Police Department told him that Chief Champagne’s policy is to issue all first-time applicants restricted licenses, but that Chief Champagne might remove the restrictions when Mr. Capone renewed his LTC (license to carry) in about six years,” according to the complaint.
Brent Carlton, president of Comm2A, said only some communities apply the restrictions targeted in the suit. “Most cities and towns issue unrestricted licenses to virtually all applicants,” he said.
But state law allows local police chiefs, such as those in Peabody and Danvers, to use their discretion in placing restrictions on the gun licenses they issue.
According to the lawsuit, that means, “neighboring localities may adopt different policies regarding unrestricted licenses to carry, resulting in a citizen’s right to bear arms being dependent on whether he lives in one locality or the other.”
Carlton said he expects the lawsuit will be defended by the office of the state’s Attorney General.
Carlton said Comm2A, a Natick-based group, consists of five people. “We don’t have a membership,” he said. The organization receives donations from “hundreds of people.” Carlton is a part-time gun instructor and a consultant.
Comm2A had help in mounting the suit from the National Rifle Association, he said.
“We did all the work,” he said. “We found the plaintiffs.” That was accomplished, he said, through advertising and “extensive networking in the shooting community.”
The recent shooting massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn. — and resulting push for more gun controls — hasn’t hampered their fundraising efforts, he said.
“January was the biggest fundraising month we’ve had,” Carlton said. And among firearms instructors, “most of us can’t keep up with the demand over the last two months. ... The thought of losing (gun rights) gets people more interested in it.”