Gun control bills bring heated testimony to Beacon Hill

Gun Rights

Dozens of gun control measures under consideration by the state Legislature are plainly at odds with recent rulings by the Supreme Court and wouldn’t actually prevent gun violence or crime, firearms advocates told a legislative joint committee.

However, some of the would-be gun laws might make Massachusetts safer and potentially save lives, if advanced to the full Legislature and given the governor’s signature, gun safety advocates told the same group of lawmakers.

Through four hours of occasionally heated and emotional testimony during a hearing held Tuesday morning, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security heard from both gun owners and victims of gun violence over 56 firearms-related bills, consideration of which comes just weeks after the state House passed an omnibus gun policy proposal and while the Senate considers a similar measure.

“A majority of the bills have already been incorporated, in one fashion or another, into the omnibus gun bill that the House passed earlier this session and I’m very much looking forward to the Senate taking that up in short order,” state Rep. David Paul Linsky, who sponsored 14 of the 56 bills heard, told the committee.

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Gun Owners Action League Executive Director Jim Wallace told the committee he’s concerned their efforts to further prevent currently prohibited acts will only serve to make it harder for law abiding citizens to protect themselves from criminal actors. Even when the state does pass so-called common sense gun laws — such as red flag provisions or an on the books mandate for the state to provide safe storage information to the public — the programs aren’t funded or implemented, Wallace said.

“So here we are talking about passing more laws that are not going to be used. Meanwhile, the people that I represent are being made out to be the bad guys,” he said.

Speaking as a member of gun violence reduction group Moms Demand Action, Ilyse Levine-Kanji said that polling shows the bills under consideration, in addition to having the seal of approval of groups like hers, have the support of a majority of Bay State voters. Strengthening the laws may even, she said, prevent tragedies like the recent mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, from occurring in the Bay State.

“While none of these policies or legislation will completely eradicate gun violence, each one will protect our freedom to live just a little bit more,” she said.

Before the committee Tuesday, among many others, were bills which would institute a live fire requirement for getting and keeping a firearms license, require universal background checks for private gun sales, raise the age for possession of a firearm to 21, greatly expand the list of firearms prohibited for sale or purchase in Massachusetts, and an outright ban on semi-automatic firearms.

A bill offered by Republican state Sen. Ryan Fattman aims to clarify firearms ownership for medical marijuana patients, another, offered by Sen. Michael Barrett, would institute a fine for anyone who lawfully possesses a gun without also carrying liability insurance.

Massachusetts, which charts some of the lowest rates of gun related deaths and violence among the 50 states, is considering changes to the law after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen. That ruling, handed down in 2022, declared that most extraordinary firearms licensing requirements infringe upon rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

According to Justin Davis, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, in addition to violating the high court’s orders following the Bruen decision and other long-standing court rulings regarding the Second Amendment, none of the bills heard Tuesday aimed at further regulating lawful gun ownership would protect Bay State residents from violence.

“The slate of bills in front of you today include a slew of anti-gun bills that would further disarm law-abiding gun owners in Massachusetts while having no effect on criminal activity,” he said. “At best these proposed avenues are ineffective, at their worst they are flat out unconstitutional. These cookie-cutter, one-size-fits all gun control policy proposals are only going to impact law-abiding citizens like our members. That is because criminals, who by definition do not follow the law, ignore these laws.”

Samuel Levy, a senior counsel and regional director at Everytown for Gun Safety, praised the committee for considering stricter gun rules and urged them to take action to keep Massachusetts at the top of the nation’s gun safety list, especially in light of the high court’s decision.

“It’s urgent that you all take steps to address the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bruen, which made it far easier to obtain a concealed carry permit in states like Massachusetts,” he said.

The committee took no action on the bills, which are unlikely to advance before lawmakers return to formal session next year.

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