25 new billboards praising Massachusetts gun laws taken down after pro-gun group complains

More than two dozen newly installed billboards praising Massachusetts gun laws have been removed after a pro-gun group said they were misleading.

The billboards were meant to echo a message that has been on a giant anti-gun billboard near Fenway Park for 20 years, but now that billboard also is coming down.

The new billboards carried the statement: "We're Not Anti-Gun. We're Pro-Life. Massachusetts Gun Laws Save Lives." They featured a rifle with a white flag in its barrel.

The state's main pro-gun rights group, the Gun Owners' Action League, demanded that San Antonio-based media and advertising company Clear Channel remove the new billboards or provide equal space for pro-gun activists. It called the new billboards inaccurate, arguing that gun-related crimes have increased since the state passed a package of gun laws in 1998.

A number of companies, including Clear Channel, had agreed to donate space for the billboards by Stop Handgun Violence.

Stop Handgun Violence founder John Rosenthal said that while gun-related crimes have gone up, the number of gun-related deaths in Massachusetts, including accidents and suicides, has declined since the tougher laws took effect.

Supporters of Massachusetts gun laws also have argued that the state's effort to restrict guns has been undercut by more lax firearms regulations in neighboring states. They say guns purchased outside Massachusetts can easily find their way into the state.

Rosenthal said pro-gun groups want to stifle any discussion about gun safety laws.

"The gun lobby doesn't want a rational discourse on responsible and effective gun laws," he said.

Clear Channel said it supports many anti-violence campaigns but decided to remove the Stop Handgun Violence billboards.

"This campaign has become politicized and misconstrued as a political position by our company, so we have taken it down," it said in a statement Thursday.

Rosenthal said the 25 billboards that went up on Clear Channel billboards on Tuesday have been removed. The 25 were among 36 billboards that began appearing this week on major highways around the state including in Boston, Worcester, Lawrence, Peabody, Medford and Fall River.

The head of the Massachusetts Gun Owners' Action League, Jim Wallace, had called on members of the National Rifle Association affiliate to pressure Clear Channel to remove the billboards or offer them equal time.

"The message being broadcast for Mr. Rosenthal provides inaccurate and misleading information, which will do nothing to enhance firearms safety or prevent crime," Wallace said.

Rosenthal said the rifle pictured on the billboard is the same as the one used during the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012.

Rosenthal put up the original 252-foot-long billboard in 1995 on a garage he owned along the Massachusetts Turnpike. The billboard was seen by an estimated 150,000 drivers per weekday and featured several gun control messages over the years.

Rosenthal sold the garage to the parent company of the Boston Red Sox. He said he hopes to bring the billboard back when he completes a new development in the Fenway area.