Alarmed by a Supreme Court decision, the Democratic-controlled Legislature wants to codify even more restrictions on gun ownership in this state.
SCOTUS’ ruling in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, handed down in 2022, declared that most extraordinary firearms licensing requirements infringe upon rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Despite the high court’s determination and just weeks after the House passed its own omnibus gun-policy legislation, on Tuesday the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, through four hours of occasionally emotional testimony, heard from both gun owners and victims of gun violence concerning 56 firearms-related bills.
Firearms advocates told the joint committee that dozens of gun-control measures under consideration by lawmakers are plainly at odds with recent rulings by the Supreme Court and wouldn’t actually prevent gun violence or crime.
However, gun-safety supporters told the same group of lawmakers that some laws might make Massachusetts safer and potentially save lives.
“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.
Most House Democrats in October supported a major overhaul of the state’s firearms laws, voting 120-38 on wide-ranging legislation (H 4135) that prohibits firearms in some public spaces, expands the state’s “red flag” law, seeks to crack down on the spread of ghost guns with new registration requirements, updates the statewide ban on assault weapons, and streamlines the licensing process.
However, Gun Owners Action League Executive Director Jim Wallace told the committee he’s concerned their efforts to further prevent already prohibited acts will only serve to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from the criminal element.
Even when the state does pass so-called common-sense gun laws — such as red flag provisions or a mandate for the state to provide safe storage information to the public — the programs aren’t funded or followed through, Wallace 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 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.
Bills before the committee included those that would institute a live-fire requirement for obtaining and retaining 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.
Heartbreaking testimony of individuals scarred by gun violence certainly made an impact, but left questions about how the plethora of gun-restriction measures in a state with some of the most stringent firearms-control laws in the country would help reduce gun-related crime.
That’s the question those who legally use their weapons for hunting, self-defense, or sport want answered.
State Sen. John Velis, D-Hampden/Hampshire, whose district was traumatized by a shooting on the streets of Holyoke in October that injured a pregnant woman and fatally wounded her baby, relayed a conversation he said he’d had with a retired judge.
In two decades of hearing every variety of gun case, Velis said he asked the retired jurist how many had involved a legal gun owner?
“His answer was ‘One,’” Velis told his colleagues.
According to Justin Davis, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, in addition to violating the high court’s orders in the Bruen decision and other long-standing Second Amendment rulings, none of these bills 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.
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.
The committee took no action on the bills, which the Senate will likely address before unveiling its version of gun-control legislation.
Certainly, in the case of legislative effectiveness, the quantity of laws doesn’t trump the quality of their implementation.
We have to question the need for 56 additional gun-restriction measures if the ones already on the books were being consistently enforced and adjudicated.
Like one major statewide police chiefs’ association observed, these additional supposed safeguards appear to punish legal, conscientious gun owners rather than illegally armed criminals.