Massachusetts lawmakers consider bills to update state gun laws

By Shira Schoenberg | Aug 28, 2019

This past weekend, a man was killed and three others injured in a shooting at a Lynn playground. Over a 10-hour period in Dorchester, four shootings left one man dead and three injured.

As the nation continues to confront a spate of gun violence, Massachusetts lawmakers this session will consider dozens of bills to update the state’s gun laws.

“There’s always more that we can do even though we have effective laws on the books, and we should not rest until we can eliminate all gun violence in the commonwealth,” said Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, a former prosecutor who introduced several bills to address gun violence.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on Wednesday held a packed, hours-long hearing on 68 bills related to firearms.

Dozens of gun rights advocates, many wearing orange Gun Owners Action League hats, filled one side of the hearing room. On the other side sat dozens of people wearing red and orange shirts from Moms Demand Action and the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, which support stronger gun control laws.

A top priority for gun control advocates this session is a bill, H.2045/S.1388, sponsored by Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, and Sen. Cynthia Creem, D-Newton, which would require analysis of data tracing the source of guns used in crimes. Massachusetts has collected this data since 2014, but there is no requirement for how the data is used.

The bill would require the state to contract with a university or nonprofit to analyze the data and issue a report every two years looking at things like how many guns were reported lost or stolen before they were used in a crime, whether there are particular firearms dealers that are the source for large numbers of guns involved in crime, what percentage of guns involved in crime come from out of state, and whether the data can shed light on how effective Massachusetts’ firearms laws are.

Creem said this will allow state policymakers to “build a knowledge base” regarding the supply chain for guns used to commit crimes. “We want to know where guns are, how long they’ve been around, whether the same people continue to buy guns,” she said.

Another bill, H.2091, sponsored by Linsky, would require anyone who gets a firearm license to undergo live fire training. Linsky said not having that requirement is like licensing a driver based on a classroom test before they ever get behind the wheel.

“We don’t want a situation where the first time that someone actually fires a real gun is in a time when they are needing it in self-defense or in a moment of stress,” Linsky said. “That is asking for trouble.”

But Jim Wallace, executive director of Gun Owners Action League, said the bill “seeks to address a problem that doesn’t exist.”

“We don’t have an accidental death problem with guns in Massachusetts,” Wallace said. In 2015, he said, there were 166 people who went to the emergency room with firearm-related injuries, most of them likely criminals. There were 73,000 people brought to the emergency room due to car crashes.

“Please don’t regulate guns like cars,” Wallace said. “You come to a shooting range and see a sign that says no texting while shooting, you can come talk to us about firearm safety.”

The Gun Owners Action League is pushing for a bill, H.2055, sponsored by Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, that would help gun owners get back confiscated weapons. Today, if the police take a weapon from someone — for example, while a civil accusation is being investigated — the city can send that weapon to a private warehouse, and the owner will be charged a fee to get it back. Wallace said this is done despite a state law allowing a gun owner to choose where their gun is stored. Dooley’s bill would prohibit a business from charging a fee for gun storage without an owner’s written consent.

Another bill supported by GOAL, H.2122, sponsored by Rep. David Robertson, D-Tewksbury, would prohibit municipalities from enacting their own gun-related ordinances. Wallace said that would prevent a patchwork of local rules that “makes it impossible to exercise our civil rights.” These can include, for example, rules prohibiting carrying guns on public property.

In an op-ed on the CommonWealth website, attorney Margaret Monsell said this bill is part of a national campaign by affiliates of the National Rifle Association to eliminate all local gun-related ordinances, such as one in Boston prohibiting carrying guns on school property.

One multifaceted gun control bill, sponsored by Linsky and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, S.863/H.2097, would prohibit the bulk purchasing of guns by limiting people to buying 15 guns a year. The goal is to limit the number of “straw purchases” where guns are bought legally then resold on the streets.

The bill would also require all lost or stolen guns to be reported to the police; require anyone who keeps a gun they got through a gift or bequest to be licensed and registered; and require all guns made, sold or owned in Massachusetts have microstamping technology, which provides a way to trace every bullet back to the gun that fired it.

Chang-Diaz said measures like those are necessary to address urban street violence. She noted that mass shootings, especially those involving middle-class white children, make headlines. But she asked fellow lawmakers to have that same “sense of horror, unacceptance, urgency when shootings happen in Dorchester or Roxbury or Springfield or Holyoke or other urban communities, when the child’s riddled body is black or brown and their family is low-income, doing their best to make ends meet.”

Other bills being considered by the committee would require gun owners to purchase liability insurance, require guns made by 3D printers to be registered and have a serial number imprinted on them, strengthen penalties for anyone who recklessly shoots a firearm in a public place, and allow correction officers to carry firearms off duty and after retirement under the same conditions now available to law enforcement officers.

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Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, a former Education Committee chair and a leader on education funding reform, said, “This bill stands as our commitment that, in Massachusetts, zip code must not be destiny.”

"Our session today continues nearly a half-century of work for educational equity. And this bill would not exist without the generations of Bay Staters who tirelessly and passionately kept the cause alive. Who saw the work ahead and never gave up, even when political insiders believed the issue was dead."

Fulfilling the promise of public education as the great equalizer is our next big goal. Bay Staters believe in it. It’s a goal our constitution anchors us to. Now, that collective effort in advocating, crafting policy, and working together has given us a chance to deliver on it.

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