The Massachusetts legislature is taking swift action to ban the devices that the Las Vegas shooter used to slaughter innocent concert-goers with a hail of bullets. Bump stocks are used to convert semi-automatic weapons into machine guns.
The House passed a version of a ban yesterday. Today, the Senate passed a different version.
The House took a broad approach which, while stronger, might have had unintended consequences. The house defined a new crime for using any fire accelerating device — the language was added as Amendment 1 to a budget bill.
Whoever possesses, owns or offers for sale any device which attaches to a rifle, shotgun or firearm, except a magazine, that is designed to increase the rate of discharge of the rifle, shotgun or firearm or whoever modifies any rifle, shotgun or firearm with the intent to increase its rate of discharge, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison by not less than 3 nor more than 20 years.
Some have expressed concern that this broad language could sweep in relatively benign and modest adjustments to firearms.
The Senate language bans specifically the device used in Las Vegas and another similar device, basically saying that they amount to machine guns, ownership of which is already restricted. It states in amendment 5 to the Senate version of the budget bill:
“The term machine gun shall include bump stocks and trigger cranks.”
It adds two 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.
The alternative approaches were adopted in their respective branches with overwhelming majority roll call votes. The differing versions will be reconciled in a conference committee.
I was pleased to support the Senate ban and look forward to voting for final reconciled language which I expect will emerge swiftly. Hopefully, we will also soon see congressional action to put in place a national ban.
The official senate press release appears below.
BOSTON-Today the Massachusetts Senate voted to ban bump stock and trigger cranks and classify them under the same general law that governs machine guns. The amendment, offered by Senator Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) establishes identical penalties, eighteen months to life in prison, for the use and possession of bump stocks and trigger cranks as current law holds for machine guns.
“Bump stocks and trigger cranks effectively change the nature of a semi-automatic weapon to make it into a machine gun. There is no legitimate purpose for the use, sale, and possession of these devices or than to cause as much damage as possible,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “Taking this action today protects public safety, provides ample time for residents to comply, and establishes sufficient penalties for violations.”
“This amendment is a necessary and appropriate response to the dangers inherent in these deadly devices,” said Senator Cynthia Creem. “The horror of the mass shootings in Las Vegas is unfortunately just the latest incident which calls out for the adoption of more sensible gun laws both here and nationally.”
The Senate’s bipartisan action means that those who are not appropriately licensed to possess devices that are in effect approximating a machine gun will be in violation of our state’s comprehensive firearms laws,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).
The amendment also instructs the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to notify licensed owners and manufacturers of bump stocks and trigger cranks of the effective date of the changes.
Bump stocks use the recoil power of a weapon to effectively increase the rate of fire to make the gun a fully automatic assault weapon, which have been illegal in Massachusetts since 1994. On Sunday October 1, fifty-eight people were murdered and hundreds injured by alleged killer Stephen Paddock at a Las Vegas country music festival. Law enforcement found multiple bump stocks and trigger cranks in Paddock’s hotel room where the shooting originated.
The House of Representative passed a similar bump stock ban and the two versions will be reconciled before being sent to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
Thanks to all who have taken the time to comment including the many who were harshly critical — that’s OK and appreciated. We don’t mind a frank discussion on this website.
The only real question is which version of the ban will be implemented in final legislation. Both branches of the legislature voted overwhelmingly for a ban, although they took differing approaches.
The commentary in this thread gives good support to my conviction that the narrower and more specific Senate approach is preferable. I do believe, as many commenters stated, that we should know what we are doing with the legislation — at least we should know what devices we are affecting and the Senate language assures this.
I do take the points about grandfathering — what should happen to the outstanding bump stocks in Massachusetts? Open question under discussion.
To some of the broader points made: I fully understand the feeling of some law-abiding gun owners that they are being scapegoated with additional regulations that may not protect the public. I understand their resentment of “feel-good legislation” that only adds to the complexity of the legal rules that they must follow and places them at greater risk for inadvertent violation.
I also accept the point that the law-abiding gun owners are not the ones we need to worry about — they are well vetted. The people who kill people with guns on a daily basis are overwhelmingly criminals who could never lawfully acquire a weapon under the rules we have in place in Massachusetts.
Yet, I do support this legislation. I don’t think this legislation is a cure-all, but it is not useless. In the legislative process, there is always a balancing of considerations and an element of guess work. In this case, on the one hand, as many gun-owners have acknowledged, these devices have no particular legitimate value, so banning them is no great loss. On the other hand, there is a possibility that a rapid fire weapon could come into the control of the wrong person and be used to multiply harm in a crime. Even if we could be sure that all licensed gun owners would remain sane — and certainly, a healthy person can become depressed — a less healthy person in the same household could get access to the guns as happened in Sandy Hook. What are the odds that lives will be saved by the legislation? . . . hard to say, but I’m willing to make a judgment that the safety benefits of this legislation outweigh the harms.
To the 2A advocates, I’m sure we can agree that there is a line. They didn’t have machine guns in 1776. I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone complain about the machine gun ban. And this really is about banning something like machine guns. For most Americans, this is common sense — polling indicates it appears that among voters, healthy majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor a ban. I understand the slippery slope concern, but every legislative decision could slide too far in the wrong direction in the future — we always have to draw lines.
Some expressed concern that the legislation is being rushed through hastily. Agreed. Both branches did move quickly to put a stake in the ground. But through the negotiation process that will now happen to reconcile the competing versions, I’m confident that we’ll end up with an adequately vetted product.
I do agree that we should be doing more on mental health issues, but no one should think this is a meaningful alternative to gun control. In fact, a strong effort to police all those who are mentally ill would be a great threat to personal liberty, much greater than that raised by deprivation of bumpstocks and machine guns. We will never have the ability to reach out into the population and readily identify people who are so dangerous that we need to intervene in their lives. We can make treatment available for those who want it, but we just can’t see many of the most dangerous people coming. There are millions of depressed people, but very few mass shooters. We’d probably have to have 20% of the population under mental health watch if we wanted to catch all the mass shooters and that would be terribly intrusive.
To those who believe that our existing gun laws simply need to be better enforced, please be assured that mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes are filling our urban jails — they are the most common mandatory sentence in some our Houses of Correction.
I’ve closed this thread to comment, but if you feel there is something that hasn’t been said, please feel free to reach out to me directly at [email protected]
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