Life in Prison for Bump-Fire Stock? Massachusetts Senate Passes Ban More Specific Than House Version

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BOSTON — Following Thursday’s 33-0 Senate vote, the Bay State now is on the verge of becoming the first state since the Las Vegas shooting rampage to enact a full ban on bump-fire stocks, or add-on equipment that can transform a semi-automatic firearm into a de facto machine gun.

The devices are legal right now, but people violating the law would be subject to prison terms of 18 months to life once the law takes effect.

The proposed statute, attached as an amendment to Beacon Hill’s 2017 supplemental budget, calls for banning the sale of bump-fire stocks and trigger cranks. Lawmakers acted quickly to introduce the measure after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker told reporters last week that he’d support such a ban. On Wednesday, however, the House voted 151-3 to attach a bump-fire stock ban amendment to the budget, which drew the ire of pro-Second Amendment groups who believed the measure was too sweeping. 

The House amendment called for a ban on all components “that can be added to a firearm, rifle or shotgun that could increase the rate of fire” while also stipulating that the “Secretary of Public safety shall promulgate regulations by Jan. 1, 2018, concerning the allowability of maintenance and enhancement of rifles, shotguns and firearms consistent with the intent of this section.”

Specifically, the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts cried foul over the first section, pointing out that it’s “loosely worded” and could potentially mean owners of weapons such as common bolt-action rifles could be subject to prosecution for merely improving via maintenance their weapon’s firing mechanism. GOAL also took offense to the last section regarding the January 1 promulgating of regulations and labeled it “egregious,” arguing that it would “give the state regulatory authority over the maintenance and enhancement of all firearms.”

The group called on its members to flood the state Senate with telephone calls. 

A day later, the Senate passed a re-drafted amendment offered by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton), joined by other lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), that specifically bans bump-fire stocks and trigger cranks.

Per Creem’s amendment:

SECTION X: Section 121 of Chapter 140 of the general laws as appearing in the 2016 official edition, is hereby amended in line 100 by inserting after the words “submachine gun” the following:-

“The term machine gun shall include bump stocks and trigger cranks.”

SECTION Y. Section 121 of chapter 140 of the general laws as appearing in the 2016 official edition, is hereby amended in line 100 by inserting the following new definitions:-

“Bump stock” any device for a semiautomatic firearm that increases the rate of fire achievable with such firearm by using energy from the recoil of the firearm to generate a reciprocating action that facilitates repeated activation of the trigger.

“Trigger Crank” any device to be attached to a semi-automatic firearm that repeatedly activates the trigger of the firearm through the use of a lever or other part that is turned in a circular motion, but does not include any firearm initially designed and manufactured to fire through the use of a crank or lever.

SECTION Z.  The executive office of public safety and security shall notify any individual licensed under chapter 140 of changes made under section X and the effective date of those changes.  The executive office shall also notify manufacturers of bump stocks and trigger cranks of changes made under section X and the effective date of those changes.

SECTION XX. Section X shall take effect 90 days after the passage of this act; but it shall be unlawful to purchase, sell, or offer for sale a bump stock or trigger crank in violation of chapter 140 of the General Laws after the effective date of this act.

Tarr, in speaking from the floor, had originally hoped that the proposed ban could have been subject to public hearings, but ultimately relented and joined up with Democrats. 

“This was not in the mindset or vocabulary of most people in Massachusetts before the horrific events in Las Vegas,” Tarr said, referring to  bump-fire stocks, of which there were at least a dozen discovered in shooter Stephen Paddock’s Mandalay Bay hotel room, according to authorities. “Now that we have that knowledge, it’s our obligation to act. I would be the first to suggest that we ought not pursue this issue as an amendment to a spending document, that it needs a public hearing so it can be vetted with the benefit of information from the public. I know today that is not going to happen. But I also know I filed legislation about this, which has many co-sponsors.”

Tarr called the amendment “very straightforward” and noted that “it says we have a licensure law that restricts if not entirely prohibits a machine gun.” 

“There are two devices not specifically referenced in that law,” he added. “One is the bump stock. The other is a trigger crank. The definitions are calculated to ensure that if it possesses those traits and you don’t have a license you are violating the law. People have suggested we punish that severely. Unlike other proposals, the imprisonment term is between 18 months and life. This provides a strict penalty.”

Both pieces of equipment, however, as of now are still legal under state law, but would become illegal approximately 90 days after the supplemental budget is signed into law by Baker.

“If you are not properly licensed you better not possess one of these devices,” Tarr said.

Creem claimed that “lives might have been saved if this [equipment] was not available” to the Las Vegas gunman. 

“This provides clear definition of bump stock and trigger crank, which allows semiautomatic weapons to fire like a machine gun, and it treats them like machine guns,” she said. “Unless you’re law enforcement, training law enforcement, or a highly regulated collector, you cannot have these, with penalties of up to life. These would be illegal immediately and would need to be disposed of in 90 days. I filed a stronger gun control bill, but I think that will be taken up at a later date.”

Creem did not specify the nature or title of her gun control bill.

State Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover), who is mulling a bid for outgoing U.S. Representative Niki Tsongas’s seat, mentioned the name of a Tewksbury constituent, Rhonda LaRocque, who perished in the massacre and reminded her peers about how last week she “stood before you to offer our collective condolences.” 

“On Saturday morning I’m going to go to the memorial service of this beautiful young lady,” L’Italien said Thursday. “I can look the family in the eye and say we in the Senate have tried to do right by their family and tried to prevent future mass shootings.”

State Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) thanked his colleagues for their vote.

“We all know the tragedy that took place in Nevada,” Moore said. “I think we should be proud we are one of the first or the first to respond as one body. It’s not Democrat or Republican.”

The House and Senate versions could be subject to a conference committee review before a final draft is sent to Baker’s desk, should leaders in both chambers arrive at an impasse, which may tie up the $129 million that lawmakers claim is needed to close out spending in 2017.

According to the State House News Service, GOAL Executive Director Jim Wallace said that while the Senate version is an improvement, he stressed that members “are not going to be happy with the process of how this got done.”

As for the difference between the House amendment passed Wednesday and the Senate version passed Thursday, Wallace had this to say:

“If you compare it to the insanity of yesterday, at least this bill is clear.”

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst) hinted to State House News Service after Thursday’s vote that he would have preferred to have had a standalone bill. 

 “We felt that there needed to be a public hearing and opportunity for transparency,” Rosenberg said after the session. “That hasn’t been able to happen yet. We felt we had to act today in order to keep this thing moving forward. But we also wanted to provide opportunity for the public to engage with us.”

A controversial overnight revision banning “copycat” assault weapons, authored and enacted by Attorney General Maura Healey in July 2016, neglected to address either bump-fire stocks or trigger cranks.

As of late Thursday night, GOAL had yet to issue a statement in response to the Senate’s action.

The organization on Wednesday released a formal statement moments after the House approved its version of the amendment.

Here is the final roll call tally from Wednesday’s House vote:

Massachusetts House Roll Call 267 — Bump Fire Stock Ban by Evan on Scribd