Massachusetts Gun Bill Would Ban More Than A Million Guns, Opponent Says

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Massachusetts lawmakers are considering massive changes to state gun regulations, including a move to ban most semi-automatic weapons.

“This bill would apply the severest firearms restrictions that Massachusetts residents have ever faced,” said Robert Leider, an assistant professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, who has written on gun policy, by email.

“No person,” the bill, titled “An Act Modernizing Firearm Laws,” says, “may knowingly possess, own, offer for sale, sell or otherwise transfer in the commonwealth or import into the commonwealth an assault-style firearm as defined in section 121 that was not otherwise lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994.”

The bill defines “assault-style firearm” in a way that covers most semi-automatic weapons. The bill’s definition of the term stretches five pages long, naming approximately 141 rifles, 47 pistols, and 16 shotguns. If the bill is enacted, owners of illegal guns could turn them over to state police under what the bill calls a “statewide firearm surrender program.”

Critics say the bill violates the federal constitution.

“The bill clearly has unconstitutional provisions,” Leider told NewBostonPost.

Leider points to the broad restriction of firearms, including on private property, as what he sees as the most obvious violation of the U.S. Constitution. But the bill’s framers may not care, he said.

“The bill’s sponsors are trying to restrict firearms to the maximum extent permitted by the Constitution,” Leider said. “They are content to enact the most restrictive conditions that they can think of, and then let the courts strike down the ones that go too far.”  

Whether it’s constitutional is not the only area of concern for opponents of the bill. Some gun-rights advocates say that if the bill is enacted it would severely limit the number and types of guns Massachusetts residents could get and keep.

Jim Wallace, the executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, told NewBostonPost that the number of currently legal guns the bill covers would be “virtually impossible” to determine, given the bill’s broad definitions.

A gun shop owner calculates a sharp drop in types of firearms available In Massachusetts if the bill becomes law.

“I can count on one hand the semi-automatic rifles that I’d still be able to sell, which is very, very few that actually would fit the description,” Toby Leary, a co-founder of Cape Gun Works in Hyannis, told NewBostonPost during a telephone interview.

How many privately owned guns would the bill ban?

“I estimate a number would be north of a million,” Leary said.

Between 2006 and 2021, 1.4 million firearms were sold or transferred by licensed dealers in Massachusetts, according to The Reload, which analyzes gun statistics. The vast majority of those firearms are handguns. Gun sales in Massachusetts had record years in 2020 and 2021, during the height of the coronavirus shutdowns, according to WBUR.

Massachusetts state Representative Michael Seamus Day (D-Stoneham), the lead sponsor of the bill, has presented the measure as a way to lessen gun crime, especially from so-called “ghost guns” or unlicensed firearms.

“This proposal will modernize our laws to continue to promote and encourage responsible gun ownership,” Day said in a written statement June 26, adding that the bill allows “our communities” to “combat gun violence in our streets.”

NewBostonPost contacted Day twice, asking if he agrees with Leary’s estimate that the bill would ban more than a million guns in Massachusetts — on Thursday, August 3, and again, on Wednesday, August 16. He did not respond to either request.

During their interviews with NewBostonPost, both Leary and Wallace called the bill unconstitutional.

”I do not believe it is constitutional in any way, shape, or form,” Leary said, pointing to District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case regarding the Second Amendment, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the amendment protects the rights of individuals to use guns in “common use.”

Wallace noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen against a New York state law requiring a gun license to own a gun. Wallace said the current proposal “represents a tantrum because the anti-civil-rights bigots in the state couldn’t handle the Supreme Court saying you can’t do what you’re doing.”

Joyce Malcolm, a historian, constitutional scholar, and professor emerita at the Antonin Scalia Law School, said banning most semi-automatic weapons is “completely unconstitutional,” noting that Heller and Bruen ruled owning firearms “in common use” for lawful purposes is protected under the federal constitution.

“Maybe it is time that state legislators respect the opinions of the Supreme Court,” Malcolm told NewBostonPost by email.

NewBostonPost contacted several gun control advocates and experts in Massachusetts and elsewhere for comment during the last several weeks, but has so far received no responses.

Among changes in the law the bill envisions is a mandate that owners and manufacturers register all firearms at the time of purchasing or manufacturing. The registration would include the name and address of the owner and the person from whom the gun was acquired, along with the gun’s manufacturer, its make, caliber, and serial number.

Since being filed, the bill has yet to move forward, in part because the Massachusetts Senate and House have not agreed on which committee the bill should go for further consideration. The House tried to send it to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, of which Day is a co-chairman, on June 26. The Senate disagreed, voting to send the measure to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on July 10.

The bill is currently before no legislative committee because of the disagreement.

The speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Ron Mariano (D-Quincy, said July 24 that the House will take up the bill in the fall.


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