32 replies on “H4121 Gun Control Legislation”

  1. Hi Paul,

    I’ve engaged in a lot of discussion in this forum in early 2013. So, my general thinking is out there — I do think we have to do what we can to improve public safety, but I don’t want to impose restrictions that won’t make a difference to public safety.

    At this point, I’m taking the process step by step — waiting for the House to Act, then for the Senate to bring a bill to the floor. I’ll engage in a dialog on this site to to help me decide how I feel about the bill that actually comes before me and will take a position after that.

  2. Will,

    I apologize if I mischaracterize your position here, but you seem in favor of most forms of gun control (witnessed by co-sponsoring Sen. Creem’s bill). If you are in favor of any of the provisions in this bill, I’d like to here any evidence you have to support the positions, especially given the extensive (and confusing, and vague) gun control laws we already have in this state.

    In any event, here are some thoughts on some of the provisions in the bill. I’d be happy to hear any differing opinions:

    – 1 year misdemeanors become a statutory disqualifier for a gun license: This would mean that a number of people in MA who’ve had gun licenses for decades, and have been law abiding citizens for that period, would lose their 2A rights. A couple of fairly ridiculous examples of 1yr misdemeanors include defacing a library book and blasphemy. Further, juvenile records are sealed for most purposes, but not gun licenses. So, a 16yo who takes the lord’s name in vain or marks in a library book could lose his or her rights.

    – Private gun sales must go through a licensed dealer: Massachusetts does not have a “gun show loophole” currently. The eFA10 system requires that all private gun sales are recorded with the state (including the license numbers of both parties and the make/model/serial number of the firearm). The electronic form is required to be submitted at the time of the transfer and a background check is done on the licenses at the moment the form is submitted. Licensed owners are also restricted to 4 private sales per year.

    Further, because of the EOPS list and AG regulations, many high quality handguns that are available in all other states and are owned by licensed people in MA, could not be sold, making them worthless.

    – Adding suicide prevention information to LTCs: This is just absurd.

    – FID becomes discretionary (“may issue”): This would mean that a person who is, essentially, a government appointed bureaucrat can take away what has determined to be a constitutional right with no due process. I’m not a constitutional lawyer but don’t see how this would stand up to a court challenge.

  3. Legislation evolves a lot in the vetting process. This bill is not one that I am personally in charge of. It is on the House side now. I will focus on the details of the legislation when it comes before the Senate. I expect to post thoughts at that time.

    But those who want to discuss the House bill here, should feel free to do so and I promise to review the discussion and expect to be informed by it.

  4. Fair enough Will. It does appear that DeLeo is trying to push this one hard to get it through before the end of the session.

    Also, I like to think I know MA firearm law pretty well. If anyone in this discussion has questions on it, I’ll do my best to address them.

  5. I think this bill is irrelevant. It avoids dealing with the heart of the matter, illegals guns in the hands of people who have no interest in whatever laws are passed. If the legislature really wants to make a difference, it will look into the root causes of gun violence and deal with those issues, all complex, messy and expensive, to be sure, but that’s what has to be done. I don’t know what really drives legislation like this, but if someone said, here’s the problem, here are the causes, and here’s how this bill will mitigate the problem, I think everyone would agree they are wasting their time on this bill. Unless ticking off the gun control box in their next campaign is the key driver.

  6. Don,

    The problem is that this bill *is* relevant to people who are trying to own a gun and stay within the law. I agree that most it’s irrelevant to fixing any real problems.

    Regarding your last sentence, there are indicators this is about ego: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/05/27/speaker-robert-deleo-joins-lot-grass-roots-activists-pushing-for-sweeping-new-gun-laws/85wOa7VDEMIEwBewZ5r4HO/story.html

    I’d really hope that our state legislature isn’t run as this article implies, nor do we enact laws that restrict rights as a way to boost political legacies.

  7. An interesting sequence so far, and a good observation about the law’s problem with “illegal guns in the hands of people who have no interest” in the laws. How can we get anywhere with that problem? the law doesn’t matter much to the ones who have the illegal guns and keep and use them in illegal ways. Sort of by definition, if someone is breaking the law then they are going to be breaking the law, so what does the law matter to them anyway? But one thing that does seem like a good idea is to try to figure out where they get the guns they are using and are thinking about using. Some no-good? Probably the no-good won’t be much interested in the law either, so we’re stuck again. But if there was some way to figure out where and how the no-good got the gun there might be some way to see if we could keep the no-good from getting more of them so they don’t wind up in the hands of those who would be using them for unlawful purposes. Is there something already there in the law about sales and stuff? So if there’s a gun that’s used illegally we could we figure out where and how it got there so that next time it didn’t?

  8. David,

    A big part of my argument against this law is based on the laws we already have in this state. I don’t know how much you know about firearms law in MA, but it’s important to realize that there is no “gun show loophole” here. All legal gun owners have been extensively background checked and very nearly all guns are registered (there are a couple of minor exceptions to this).

    When a gun is purchased legally (at a dealer or by private transaction) the license numbers and the make/model/serial# of the gun are logged into a database (FA10 system administered by the DCJIS).

    If a gun shows up in a crime, it *should* be very easy to trace its history in MA and see if it came from a licensed gun owner. It should also be easy to do a study of how often this happens. So, where is the evidence that licensed gun owners in MA are a source of guns used by criminals? I’ve spoken in person to Jack McDevitt about this and he wasn’t able to answer the question (he told me that the FA10 forms don’t make it into a database, which is false).

  9. It is my understanding that many private sales
    are done with agents who then sell the guns illegally in the inner city. The transfer takes place before the background check comes back.
    If this is in error, please tell me how
    all private sales are made only AFTER the background check.

  10. Alice,

    First, to legally buy or sell a gun in MA, you must be properly licensed. You can read what’s involved with getting a license here: http://www.goal.org/masslawpages/licensinginfo.html
    To summarize though, getting the license involves training, a very extensive background check and the approval of your local police chief. It must also be renewed every 6 years for $100.

    Next, to buy a new gun in MA, you must go to a dealer in the state that is licensed by both the state and the BATFE. At the time of purchase, a background check is done with the federal government (NICS) and the status of the person’s license is checked with the state. The make/model/serial# is then registered with the state under that person’s name and license #.

    If the person then decides to sell the gun, he or she can only sell it to another properly licensed individual and can only privately sell up to 4 guns per calendar year. At the time of the sale, the seller is required to fill out this form (records the license numbers of both parties as well as the make/model/serial# of the gun): https://mircs.chs.state.ma.us/fa10/action/home?app_context=home&app_action=presentHome

    When the form is submitted, the license numbers are checked again.

    If the licensed person sells to another person without the proper license, that’s a felony. Given that any gun purchased has been registered, it’s very easy to trace the gun back to the original purchaser. Further, it defies logic that someone would go through all that effort to get a gun license, buy a gun at full retail price (from $500 to thousands depending on model) and then commit a felony by selling it to a criminal.

  11. Paul: You’re right that the bill is relevant to the people who are legal or are trying to be legal who will be further restricted by this bill. And thank you for the reminder of the Globe column. I recall reading it when it was first published, describing the bill as “sweeping change” and “comprehensive reform.” What a joke when it doesn’t even touch the people who are the real problem.

  12. David: You ask how can we get anywhere with this problem. And you suggest drying up the supply of illegal guns by being able to trace the the source of guns used in a crime. I agree we need to do something to limit the supply of illegal guns. But no state can do it alone. State borders are porous. States with loose rules supply the bad guys in states with tight rules. We need national legislation on that score, as a start. The other set of solutions focus on drying up the demand for illegal guns. That’s where it gets complex, and unappealing for most legislators, because it involves dealing with underlying social issues that too many either have given up on or don’t want to touch.

  13. It’s worth noting that a portion of this proposed bill would be in conflict with the decision in Fletcher v. Haas which acknowledged that lawful permanent resident aliens are eligible for licensure.

    I am greatly disappointed that this bill doesn’t seem to address the majority of crimes with firearms which are committed by habitual offenders associated with gangs. The unwillingness of the judiciary to apply the Bartley Fox mandatory minimums for illegal possession of firearms does not inspire confidence in the meager increases in the severity of sentencing included in this proposed bill.

    The onus of the legislation is on lawful licensed owners with no clarification or streamlining of the murky statutes other than the elimination of class B licenses to carry. I feel it was written to “to do something” by targeting the people which obey the law in the first place; rather than undertaking the more difficult task of effectively modifying the behavior of criminals which break the current laws.

  14. We are totally against this gun bill H4121. The cops get to decide who is suitable to receive a gun permit? So, if the Chief does not like red heads, no permit? If someone is late getting a registration renewed, no permit? The constitution does not say that the police have the right to determine who is suitable and who is not suitable for a permit.

  15. Harold/Paul: Do you know of any data on the incidence of gun violence by people in Massachusetts who are licensed vs. those applying for a license vs. those unlicensed (and presumably not interested in the law)? I would bet the last category includes the overwhelming proportion of firearms offenders. If we had some data, it could be helpful in the next hearing, to try to kill the bill or to refocus it on the real offenders. I’m sure the legislators have heard the extremes on the topic – no more regs of any kind for any reason vs. eliminate all guns in private hands. They may not have heard a pursuasive argument that they are focused on the wrong people. (They may not care, but the position might get some press coverage and have some impact that way.)

  16. Don, Sorry but I have no hard data on that. Anecdotally, I believe the numbers are exceedingly small but I’ll see what I can find and follow up with the information.

    Unfortunately, my understanding is there won’t be any further hearings on this. A member of the homeland security committee did make a motion for another hearing in the western part of the state, but that motion was stuck down.

    Regarding guns in private hands, the cynic in me has to consider whether the point is to eliminate them, as anyone who goes through the licensing process (and gains an understanding of our gun laws), inevitably ends up wanting to vote against the politicians who wrote and voted for these laws.

  17. Mr. Wilson may I ask for clarification. Bringing up the possibility of taking the lord’s name in vain (etc.) is justthe sort of thing that muddies this already-emotional issue. How many people are actually arrested/charged with misdemeanors like that? I will propose here that you have included two such ridiculous examples in order to cast doubt on the concept of misdemeanors leading to exclusions. Do you have any realistic examples? Yes, you’ve got me: I want to see even better gun control than we have. This kind of silliness only makes me angry, making it harder to remain cool-headed when we discuss life and death matters. Can you please supply another example or two? I can look myself, but if you want to use such a point, I think you should stay with real life examples. I’m also not opposed to looking at juvenile records, by the way. A history of violence should impact one’s ability to own a gun.
    Thank you for what help you can offer.

  18. Ms. Kenney,

    You say those examples are ridiculous, then ask for more realistic examples. The flip side of that would be to research how many people in MA have been arrested on ridiculous charges. Do you have any numbers on that? As part of this bill, would you support amendments that get rid of ridiculous laws?

    We have a system where people can be arrested for these sorts of ridiculous things and, further, that system can be used to take away what has been found to be a constitutionally guaranteed civil right (citing self defense as a specific reason). Here’s the MA crime list for reference: http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/admin/sentcomm/mastercrimelist.pdf

    Further, for pretty much all other cases in this state, juvenile records are sealed. In fact the juvenile system in MA isn’t really seen as punishment but as rehabilitation. So, as possibly more realistic example, if a person, as a juvenile, is caught spraying graffiti on a school, that will be a statutory disqualifier under H4121. Is that fair? It’s not silly to someone who did something stupid as a teenager but has been a good member of society ever since. Surely that scenario is not ridiculous. Mind you, in some of these cases we’re talking about arrest having been used to deny a gun license, not even convictions.

    If a person has a history of violence, the state government shouldn’t need to resort to 1yr misdemeanors to exclude those people. If the person is truly violent like that, they probably shouldn’t be walking the streets.

    You say you want “better” gun control laws. How will these be better? How will they prevent violence over and above the gun control laws we have? What if the gun control laws we currently have don’t prevent violence? Would you be willing to get rid of them? The violent crime rates in NH and VT are very low, yet they have much fewer gun control laws (VT has, essentially, none). So is it more accurate to say you simply want *more* gun control laws?

    I would argue this isn’t an emotional issue. It’s a scientific issue (there ought to be proof these laws actually work) and a political issue (owing a gun has been found to be a protected, natural right). If you’re getting this emotional on the issue, you should probably step back and consider whether you’re projecting those emotions on others.

    I for one don’t consider anything I’ve posted here to be silly.


  19. For anyone still following, H.4121 has been superseded by H.4278. I haven’t had a chance to fully evaluate the bill, but the net of it seems to be that it puts further restrictions on lawful gun ownership in the commonwealth and I’m not seeing how it will have any, real, positive impact.

    Will, can you comment on it at this point as it’s now headed to the senate? Thanks.

  20. I’ve read through H.4278 and it is a significant improvement over the original bill.

    It still alarmingly contains the section in conflict with Fletcher v. Haas denying legal resident aliens their civil rights.

    I do worry that the expanded suitability to FID’s could be abused. However, at least the new language puts the burden of proof for lack of suitability on the issuing authorities with due process and an opportunity to appeal in court. It would be even more reassuring if a provision was added such that if a denial of suitability was overturned on appeal that the issuing authority would be responsible for paying the legal fees.

    I also think it would be a good idea to have an enforceable deadline to respond to requests for a license application. Currently some cities and towns have significant queues to provide application forms or schedule license interviews. This opportunity for delaying the application process could be abused if an enforceable time period isn’t specified.

    1. Matthew, I agree with all those points.

      I think it’s also worth noting that Heller/McDonald says a person has a right to own a handgun in the home for the purposes of protection. Any time a Constitutionally guaranteed right is to be taken away, it should be done through due process. Currently in MA, the FID is shall issue and the Chiefs have no discretion over issuing it (yes, I know an FID doesn’t allow a handgun, but I’ll ignore that for now).

      If a bureaucrat is given discretion over FIDs, I don’t see how that qualifies as due process and I don’t see how that law would withstand a court challenge.

  21. HI Folks,

    I really appreciate the conversation in this thread. I expect to see the Senate version of the gun bill sometime quite soon — we are likely to take it up next week and I will post it soon for discussion. I understand that it will look a lot like the House bill, but may respond to some of the concerns raised in this thread.


  22. It appears that legalization of pepper spray is being included in the senate version of this bill. However, it includes language saying that anyone who is a “convicted or adjudicated a youthful offender or delinquent child” can’t possess pepper spray. So if someone has been a law abiding citizen for decades but did something stupid as a teenager (the law generally recognizes that teenagers are prone to such things), that person cannot possess pepper spray. This seems at odds with where the state is heading in general.

  23. Will:

    H. 4278 will be heard in two days. Will you support it in spite of the discretionary provision?



    1. I am very likely to vote to move the bill to the next stage (a conference committee) at the end of the debate — but we’ll see how the amendment process goes. Many problems with a bill can get ironed out in the conference committee. This bill is getting pretty close to good and should keep moving.

  24. Erik,

    Here’s the senate version: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/Senate/S2265/Amendments?filter=Senate&pg=1&perPage=50

    I haven’t had time to go through it fully, but some of the amendments appear to be as bad or worse than the discretionary FID.


    I see that the amendments to the senate version are coming in fast and furious (so to speak).

    First, can you explain your amendment in clear terms? Also, here are some thoughts on other amendments:

    2 (Lewis): This sounds a) expensive b) potentially intrusive and c) what’s the exact purpose?

    13 (Creem): What other databases would be checked?

    17: Why should retired police officers have any form of exemption with regard to firearm laws? This strikes me as some are more equal than others.

    20 (Creem): If a private sale must happen amongst properly licensed individuals and that those individuals must use the real time background check portal, why does it matter if it happens at a dealer? What benefit will the dealer bring?

    57 (Creem): If all sales/transfers are background checked, how does one gun a month prevent gun trafficking? Where is the evidence that any LTC/FID holder has trafficked legally purchased firearms?


  25. The amendment that I filed is intended to reduce the overuse of criminal sanctions in routine school disciplinary situations. My amendment eliminates the crime of disturbing a school assembly. We do want more police in and around schools to help protect kids, but we don’t want routine adolescent misbehavior to be criminalized. The crime of disturbing a school assembly is not an essential disciplinary tool — if a child can be ordered to leave and in the implausible case in which they won’t leave, they can be prosecuted for trespass.

  26. From my reading, amendment 60 will outlaw firearms that are currently lawful in Massachusetts.

    Will, from reading, it appears the senate has taken the opportunity to graft every pet amendment they could onto house bill that represented something that both sides accepted. Why does the senate feel the need to sully the process like this?

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