By Naveen Athrappully
Massachusetts House lawmakers approved a measure on Oct. 18 that would tighten the state’s firearm laws and crack down on unregistered “ghost guns,” which gun rights advocates claim is “the worst anti-gun legislation in the country.”
The bill, H. 4135, was passed by the Massachusetts House on a 120–38 vote. It would mandate that key gun components be serialized and registered with the state, it proposes an enhanced system to curtail the flow of illegal guns into the state, and it seeks to modernize the existing firearm registration system. It would also expand the state’s ban on assault weapons by prohibiting the purchase of AR-15-style weapons and would ban the conversion of a legal firearm into an illegal automatic weapon.
The proposed regulation would outlaw possession of firearms while intoxicated and prohibit firing guns near homes. It would ban carrying firearms in polling places, schools, and government buildings. It also provides for expanding the state’s “red flag” laws, which allow judges to suspend gun licenses of people deemed to be at risk of harming themselves or others.
The passage of H. 4135 has been severely criticized by gun rights advocates. In an Oct. 18 statement, the National Rifle Association of America-Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) denounced lawmakers, asking supporters to contact their state senators and “voice their opposition” to the bill.
“H. 4135 re-writes gun laws in the Commonwealth and imposes unprecedented gun control. This is an ominous bill that includes the worst anti-gun legislation in the country,” it stated.
NRA-ILA warned that the bill imposes “widespread bans on commonly owned firearms,” eliminates due process through expanded “red flag” laws, expands gun registry programs, and places an “extreme financial burden” on gun owners.
Massachusetts Rep. Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy) claimed that the legislation was conceived because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision expanding Second Amendment rights last year, according to The Hill.
In a 6–3 decision in June 2022, the Supreme Court struck down a state law in New York that made it hard to secure a permit to carry a handgun outside the home.
“While Massachusetts annually ranks as one of the safest states in the entire country from gun violence, the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision nullified existing components of our gun laws, threatening the safety of the Commonwealth’s residents,” Mr. Mariano wrote in an Oct. 19 post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
“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.”
Donna Stevenson, a volunteer with the Massachusetts chapter of Moms Demand Action, said: “Communities across Massachusetts are grappling with the impact of senseless gun violence. Today, House lawmakers have sent a resounding message: We will act to end gun violence in our Commonwealth.
“This bill is a vital step forward in addressing the current trends of gun violence and providing our cities and towns with improved resources to effectively combat this crisis.”
Opposition From Police Chiefs, Republicans
The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association criticized the bill, voting unanimously last week to oppose it. The police chiefs are the ones who approve gun licenses in the state and will be tasked with enforcing the bill’s regulations.
There were also concerns that officers won’t be allowed to carry their weapons off-duty. This concern was addressed as lawmakers amended H. 4135 to allow off-duty officers to carry their guns, even in prohibited places such as government buildings and schools.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, told The Associated Press that H. 4135 is an overreaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s New York gun ruling. He criticized the proposal for targeting gun owners rather than focusing on reducing crime.
“All of it goes against us, the lawful people. There’s nothing in there that goes after the criminals,” he said. “This is a tantrum. This is a flat-out tantrum.”
The bill was hotly debated in the House, with Republicans criticizing the strict measures.
“We have a responsibility to keep people safe, but that doesn’t mean we take away the freedoms and the rights enjoyed by those legal citizens,” Rep. Peter Durant (R-Mass.) said on the House floor, according to public radio station WBUR.
Massachusetts has some of the most stringent gun laws in the United States, and according to data from Statista, it has the lowest gun death rates of any state.
In 2023, the number of gun deaths per 100,000 residents in Massachusetts stood at 3.4. The top-ranking state, Mississippi, had nearly 10 times more victims, at 33.9 gun deaths per 100,000 residents.
Meanwhile, the state Senate has yet to introduce its version of the legislation. The two Democrat-led chambers then need to file a single bill and send it to Gov. Maura Healey, a Democrat, for her signature before it can become law.
While Senate leaders haven’t announced when they intend to introduce their version, Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) said she expects the final bill to arrive on the governor’s desk by the end of the current legislative session, which is set to conclude on July 31, 2024.