Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Massachusetts Lawmakers Pass Sweeping Gun Bill Months After 6–3 Supreme Court Decision

Massachusetts Lawmakers Pass Sweeping Gun Bill Months After 6–3 Supreme Court Decision

Lawmakers in a Democrat-controlled state passed a major gun law, with the House speaker saying it came after the Supreme Court's 2022 ruling.


The Massachusetts state House of Representatives approved a sweeping gun law that aims at restricting more firearms and cracking down on AR-15-style rifles—after a unanimous coalition of police chiefs in the state publicly opposed it.

The measure, which passed in a 120–38 vote on Oct. 18, prohibits people from carrying firearms into other people's homes without their consent. It also would force major gun components to have serial numbers, which would be registered with the state of Massachusetts, while also expanding the state's "red flag" law that allows a judge to suspend the firearms license of someone who is considered a risk to harming others.

The legislation advanced in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in 2022 that Americans have the Second Amendment-enshrined right to carry firearms in public for self-defense, according to Democrats in Massachusetts, a state that has long had stringent gun laws.

"The Supreme Court’s Bruen decision nullified existing components of our gun laws, threatening the safety of the Commonwealth’s residents. With the passage of this legislation, the House has once again displayed an unwavering commitment to ensuring that Massachusetts remains one of the safest states in the country," state House Speaker Ronald Mariano, a Democrat, said in a recent statement about the measure and the landmark high court decision.

The proposal would create new laws that bar firing guns at or near homes and outlaw carrying firearms while intoxicated. It would also prohibit carrying firearms in schools, polling places, and government buildings.

The bill expands the state’s ban on certain types of rifles, prohibiting new purchases of AR-15-style firearms. It would also ban someone from turning a legal firearm into an automatic weapon.

The proposal includes an enhanced system to track firearms used in crimes to help curb the flow of illegal guns into the state. It would also modernize the existing firearm registration system while increasing the availability of firearm data for academic and policy use, lawmakers said.

The state Senate has yet to release its version of a gun bill. It will be up to both Democrat-led chambers to hammer out a single bill to ship to Democrat Gov. Maura Healey’s desk for her signature before it can become law.

State Rep. Michael Day, the Democrat who authored the bill, claimed that "we are in the midst of a public health crisis and it is unrelenting" before blaming firearms.

"It's time for the House to once again act in this area and ask for your support on this bill," he said.

Republicans and gun rights groups say the law overreaches.

State Rep. Peter Durant, a Republican, said on the floor that he sees only "one goal" in the bill, which is to target law-abiding citizens who own firearms.

"When the listening tours were going on, when we were having the informational sessions, when this bill was being written, we were all told that the legal gun owner is not the not the target here. We're not going after them," Mr. Durant said, according to a local NBC affiliate station. "But it certainly seems to be that that's exactly what we're doing."

Another GOP state lawmaker, Rep. David Muradian, said that the "legislation is an egregious infringement on all lawful gun owners, and frankly, all residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

"I have had interactions with hundreds if not thousands of constituents within my district on this matter. The resounding question remains: What is the new proposal trying to solve?" he said.

A coalition of all the Bay State's police chiefs issued a statement saying the bill would affect only lawful gun owners.

“Although disappointed in this very predictable vote—in a proceeding where the House failed to follow their own rules—we applaud those Legislators who recognized that this bill makes no one safer. As we’ve said, the answer lies in the vigorous prosecution of criminals, who have no regard for gun laws, whether old or new. We look forward to addressing this matter with our Senate,” Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association director Mark Leahy told the Boston Herald.

Gun owners opposed to the bill have said that the measures outlined in the legislation do more to target gun owners than to reduce crime. “All of it goes against us, the lawful people. There’s nothing in there that goes after the criminals,” Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, said, adding that the bill is merely an overreaction to the Supreme Court's decision last year.

The Supreme Court, in a 6–3 decision last June, ruled that a state law in New York was unconstitutional because it unlawfully restricted an individual's right to carry a firearm in public.

The majority affirmed that such a right is guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, adding that the states can enforce "shall-issue" permitting, meaning that applicants for concealed-carry licenses have to satisfy criteria. But their ruling stipulated that "may-issue" mandates that use arbitrary evaluations that are made by local officials are unconstitutional.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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