As predicted in Issue Spot, among the thousands of bills filed at the beginning of the legislative session in January were a slew of bills pertaining to gun laws. Governor Patrick filed House Bill 47, An Act to strengthen and enhance firearms laws in the Commonwealth.
Governor Patrick’s bill proposes to do a number of things including bringing Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Amendments Act of 2007. While not a complete summary of the proposed bill, the legislation as filed would increase penalties, create new crimes and reduce access to high-powered rounds of ammunition. It also includes provisions to improve the tracking of weapons sales, limit the purchase of guns to one per month and prevent machine guns from being sold to anyone under 21. Governor Patrick’s bill contains other provisions, too, that aren’t necessarily directly connected to guns. Those provisions include amendments to the “criminal enterprise” statute to target broader illegal activity and amendments to the state wiretap statute.
Representative David Linsky has also filed a wide-ranging bill, House Bill 3253, An Act to reduce gun violence and to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth. Representative Linsky’s bill requires gun license applicants to disclose their mental health histories, prohibit assault weapons from being stored in homes, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, and require gun owners to purchase liability insurance.
Both of these bills –and the other bills pertaining to weapons — have been assigned to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Among the more than 40 other bills that have been filed are bills covering areas such as regulations of gun storage, loopholes in the current law and support for the right to bear arms. Public hearings have not yet been scheduled.
Since the flurry of activity surrounding the initial filing of bills, the Legislature has opted for a more deliberative approach to the issue. Speaker Robert Deleo recently announced his eight person task force charged with reviewing current Massachusetts gun laws. Made up of law enforcement and experts in education and mental health, the task force will be chaired by Northeastern University Associate Dean Jack McDevitt. Speaker DeLeo has put no time frame on the work of the legislative gun task force. Instead, he has said he hopes the group will have an opportunity to thoroughly debate the issue and then make recommendations.
At the BBA, President J.D. Smeallie has put together a group to monitor legislation related to gun control at the State House. The group will review and monitor these bills as they move through the legislative process and decide what, if any, role the BBA should play. Randy Gioia, Deputy Chief Council at the Committee for Public Counsel Services and former BBA Council member will chair the study group and members are now being recruited.
The BBA study group will also be closely watching HB47. The initial meeting of the group will take place this month.
– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association