The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a firearm safety reform bill that cracks down on the sale of ghost guns, strengthens the Commonwealth’s red flag laws, updates the definition of assault weapons, and limits the carrying of guns into schools, polling places, government buildings and the private residences of others. The bill is a result of a comprehensive review of the Commonwealth’s gun laws, with the goal of proposing solutions to emerging threats in technology, such as the prevalence of ghost guns, and responding to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court’s New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n., Inc. v. Bruen decision.
Following last year’s U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, Massachusetts lawmakers acted quickly to patch areas in the Commonwealth’s framework governing the issuance of licenses to carry firearms, which were undone by the Supreme Court’s actions. In addition to a review of the Commonwealth’s gun laws, Representative Michael S. Day, House Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, embarked on an 11-stop listening tour that took place across the Commonwealth, and participated in numerous meetings, including a public hearing, with a variety of stakeholders and members of the House.
It is important to note that Massachusetts has maintained important guardrails around the ability to possess, carry, and use firearms in the Commonwealth. Such regulations would have allowed law enforcement to take the guns of Robert Card, recently alleged to have shot and killed 18 in Maine while injuring another 13.
Major provisions of the bill include:
Stemming Illegal Firearm Flow
As the number of legal firearms in the Commonwealth grows, it has become increasingly important to combat the flow of illegal firearms into Massachusetts. This bill provides tools for law enforcement to target illegal gun trafficking by including an enhanced tracing system to track firearms used in crimes, modernizing the existing firearm registration system, and increasing the availability of firearm data for academic and policy use. The bill also enhances requirements for reporting lost, stolen, and surrendered firearms.
Protecting Communities from Gun Violence
Although Massachusetts has some of the lowest rates of gun deaths in the country because of its strong gun safety laws, the rate of gun deaths increased 16 percent from 2010 to 2019. The rate of gun suicides increased 7 percent and gun homicides increased 26 percent, according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety. Since July 1 of this year alone, there have been 91 shootings in Massachusetts, resulting in 40 deaths and more than 80 injuries.
To address these problems, the legislation creates specific crimes that will prohibit discharging firearms at or near dwellings and reaffirms that carrying firearms while intoxicated is criminal. Additionally, the bill standardizes training requirements for individuals seeking a license to carry and will now require live firearm training. The bill will also expand who may petition a court for an extreme risk protection order against a person who poses a risk of causing bodily injury to themselves or others beyond just household members and law enforcement to include school administrators, medical professionals, and employers. It creates a special legislative commission to study and make recommendations to improve the Commonwealth’s funding structure for violence prevention services. The bill directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to seek federal reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for violence prevention programs.
It also limits the carrying of firearms into schools, polling places, government buildings with an exemption for law enforcement. To carry a firearm into a private home, the individual must get permission from the homeowner or tenant. Businesses may continue to prohibit carrying of firearms onto property by expressed communication or posting.
Modernizing Massachusetts Firearm Laws
The bill ensures that Massachusetts laws remain in compliance with the Bruen decision and streamlines the process of obtaining a license to carry a firearm for responsible individuals. The legislation will also expand the existing assault-style firearms and large capacity feeding device prohibitions and closes loopholes that allow the modification of legal firearms into illegal automatic weapons. It provides a legacy clause so all assault-style firearms legally owned and registered in Massachusetts as of the effective date will continue to be legally owned and may be bought and sold within the state.
Between 2019 to 2021, the Boston Police Department alone saw a 280 percent increase in the number of untraceable ghost guns it recovered on the streets. The bill tackles this rise in untraceable guns by requiring the registration and serialization of frames and receivers.
Having passed the House of Representatives 120-38, An Act modernizing firearms laws now goes to the Senate for their consideration.