Today, the Mass. House of Representatives passed a major firearm safety reform bill, entitled “An Act modernizing firearms laws.” After careful review, I joined with my colleagues (120-38) in supporting this revised legislation which cracks down on the sale of ghost guns, strengthens red flag laws, updates the definition of assault weapons, and limits the carrying of guns into schools, polling places and government buildings. It also includes an important amendment I co-sponsored (more on that below). The bill has garnered a lot of feedback, on all sides of the issue, and I wanted to use this opportunity to update folks on the contents of the bill, as well as correct some misinformation about what the legislation does, and does not, do. This is not the end of the process, of course and conversations will continue as it progresses and the bill moves to the Senate. Thanks to everyone who reached to me about this. I had many great conversations and appreciate everyone took the time to express their views, regardless of what side of the issue you might be on. This post is pretty long but it is important stuff so I hope you will take a moment to read through: GHOST GUNS: There are no laws on the books in Massachusetts that specifically regulate the creation of homemade firearms, whether made from a parts kit or manufactured using a 3D printer or similar device. The bill requires that homemade firearms include a serial number and creates penalties for the use of untraceable “ghost guns.” Antique and relic firearms are exempted. EXTREME RISK PROTECTIVE ORDER (ERPO): The bill updates our existing ERPO law (sometimes referred to as a Red Flag Law) which allows family members, domestic partners, or local police to petition the court to temporally suspend a person’s access to a firearm if a judge rules that they are at risk of causing bodily harming to themselves or others. The law requires that a hearing be held and includes due process protections for the gun owner. There are also stiff penalties for filing materially false info or doing so with an intent to harass. Since 2018 there have been just 57 ERPO petitions filed statewide and in 41 instances the order was granted. There have been zero cases in which the court found the petition was fraudulent. This bill expands the list of persons who may file an ERPO to include an employer, school administrator, or a licensed medical professional. Data on ERPO filings is available here: https://public.tableau.com/app/profile/drap4687/viz/MassachusettsTrialCourtEmergencyProtectionOrdersERPO/ERPOPetitions RECKLESS FIREARM DISCHARGE. The bill creates a new penalty for the reckless discharge of a firearm that strikes a person’s home. This will make it easier to prosecute drive-by shootings. It does not apply to a person acting in self-defense of their life or property. LIMITING ASSAULT WEAPONS: The bill updates and expands the list of prohibited assault weapons. These regulations apply to new assault weapons only. There is a legacy clause so that firearms legally owned and registered today can continue to be legally owned, or bought and sold. What the bill will do is allow law enforcement to trace and prosecute those who flood our neighborhoods with assault weapons from other states. INTOXICATED FIREARM CARRY. The bill creates new a penalty for hunting and carrying a firearm while intoxicated, similar to the standard for OUI in a motor vehicle (.08% BAC). MINIMUM AGE FOR PURCHASING SEMI-AUTOMATIC. The bill raises the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle or shotgun from 18 to 21. The bill makes no other changes to what minors are able to do, including supervised hunting activities and educational programs, and they may still use a semi-automatic rifle under the supervision of a licensed adult. REPORTING STOLEN FIREARMS. The bill updates the law in regards to reporting a missing or stolen firearm that was in their possession. Under current law there is a mandatory fine for the first offense. This bill removes this mandatory fine for the initial offense and for repeat offenders permits a jail sentence of up to six months. This change gives the court more discretion to excuse someone who makes an innocent or one-time mistake, while at the same time stiffens the potential penalty for repeat offenders when warranted. INSPECTING GUN DEALERS. The issue of private gun dealers has been in the news lately and this bill helps to address this situation. The bill keeps local police chiefs as the licensing authority for private firearm dealers, but gives the Mass. State Police authority to ensure that uniform, statewide inspection protocols are followed. LTC REFORM. The bill streamlines and standardizes the process for license to carry (LTC) applicants. This includes new educational requirements about the safe storage of firearms, techniques for de-escalation and injury prevention, and live training with an actual firearm. We require an individual to practice driving a car before getting a driver’s license so it makes sense to do something similar for getting a firearm license. These provisions apply to first-time applicants only and NOT to anyone who has an existing LTC, even when they go to renew. STREAMLINING EXISTING STATUTES. In many cases, existing firearms statutes were outdated, duplicative or confusing. The bill streamlines and removes dozens of sections of duplicative law. (This is why the bill is as lengthy as it is.) The bill also removes dealer requirement to have a separate license to sell ammo and moves the application process from paper to online and allow applicants to track status. PROHIBITED AREAS: Under the bill you may not carry a weapon into a school, polling place, or government building, or to a person’s private home without their consent. The bill makes no other changes to carry laws and does not create any new limits in terms of private businesses or other public settings. This regulation is consistent with the recent U.S. Supreme Court case in Bruen which made clear the government can restrict the presence of firearms in what it called “sensitive spaces.” Here is the pertinent language from that decision: “We therefore can assume it settled that these locations were “sensitive places” where arms carrying could be prohibited consistent with the Second Amendment. And courts can use analogies to those historical regulations of “sensitive places” to determine that modern regulations prohibiting the carry of firearms in new and analogous sensitive places are constitutionally permissible” I include this language because I have heard a number of concerns that these regulations are unconstitutional. In fact, it is just the opposite: The language of the bill is lifted almost directly from the U.S Supreme Court’s conservative majority ruling. The state of New York ran afoul of the Constitution in Bruen because they essentially tried to claim that all of Manhattan was a “sensitive space” and the court rejected that theory. Here in Massachusetts, we are narrowly tailoring what is deemed a “sensitive space” consistent with Bruen. A further important note on this section: The bill included an exemption for on-duty law enforcement officers. The Mass. Police Chiefs organization and others raised some concerns in terms of off-duty police officers, who –– let’s face it –– are never truly “off-duty.” This was a valid point in my view and so we worked successfully to pass an amendment to make clear that off-duty police officers can also carry their service issued firearm in otherwise prohibited areas. DATA REPORTING: The bill expands data compilation and reporting requirements to and from the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services. It also creates publicly accessible online dashboard of anonymized aggregate firearm data to further firearms research and transparency. VIOLENCE PREVENTION COMMISSION: The bill establishes a special legislative commission to examine the existing government funding structure for violence prevention services in the Commonwealth, including funding sources, initiatives and programs utilized, specific services funded, and communities served. Commission is tasked with submitting a report with its findings and recommendations to the Legislature. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: QUESTION: Does this legislation remove the grace period for expired license holders? ANSWER: No, and as long as you apply before the expiration your license remains valid after expiration regardless of how long the renewal process takes. The bill also states that the Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services is required to send electronic or first class mail to a license or permit holder 90 days prior to its expiration and provide a website link for a renewal. QUESTION: Will this bill subject gun owners to the dissemination of their personal data? ANSWER: No, this legislation repeals duplicative language surrounding firearm owners’ personal data. Laws remain in place that the Dept. of Criminal Justice Information Services shall not disclose any records divulging or tending to divulge the names and addresses of persons who own or possess firearms and ammunition. QUESTION: Does this legislation require new storage of firearms? ANSWER: No, this legislation does not change the current law regarding storage and transportation of firearms. Current law requires that, while being transported in a vehicle, a firearm must either be under the direct control of the person (i.e., in a holster strapped to their body) or is unloaded in a locked container during transport. The bill codifies case law from the SJC in 2013 holding that a locked trunk that can’t be accessed from inside the vehicle or a locked glove box counts as a ‘locked container’. If you can access the trunk from inside the car, the firearm has to unloaded and in a locked container during transport (i.e., a locked gun case). That’s current law and the bill doesn’t make changes to it. QUESTION: Does the bill limit youth firearm programs, or restrict a minor’s use of a firearm? ANSWER: No, the bill merely raises the age for a person to purchase a semi-automatic rifle or shotgun from 18 to 21. QUESTION: With so many LTC renewals every year how can the state accommodate a live firearm training requirement? ANSWER: This requirement only applies to new applicants, not renewals. QUESTION: What was the amendment on off-duty law enforcement officers about? ANSWER: One of the concerns raised regarded by the Mass. Chiefs of Police Association and other organizations pertains to law enforcement officers and carry regulations in prohibited spaces. The bill as written exempts active duty police officers but did not include off-duty officers. Since police officers are never truly “off-duty” it made sense in my view to address this. I co-sponsored an amendment filed by Rep. Cusack to update the bill to clarify that off-duty law enforcement may also carry their department issued firearms in otherwise prohibited spaces. QUESTION: Why has the bill number changed multiple times? ANSWER: When a bill is filed it first gets issued a docket number by the Clerk. Following that it is referred to Committee and issued a formal bill number. Each time the bill is changed, the bill number changes. This is a routine part of the process and helps legislators (and the public) to track each iteration and any changes made along the way. In other words, it is a feature, not a bug. The only thing unusual about this process was that the State Senate did not concur in terms of which committee the bill should go to, which is why the hearing was held by the House Ways & Means Committee and the bill was released through a supplemental budget. There was no “shell game” or “hidden-ball” trick as some have tried to claim. QUESTION: Wasn’t this process rushed? ANSWER: The bill has undergone a lengthy review process with extensive public feedback. The original bill was filed on June 26, following a series of 11 public hearings in different regions of the state. There was a great deal of feedback at that time. Accordingly, the bill was rewritten to thoughtfully address a number of concerns raised. The revised bill was released on October 2. Another public hearing was held on October 10, which included a hybrid option for anyone to testify remotely. The new bill was formally released from committee on October 17. Amendments to the bill were taken up on Today, October 18 and the bill was subsequently passed by the House. It now moves to the Senate.
An Act modernizing firearms laws
Updated: Oct 19