The Associated Press

With Key Change, Mass. Senate Approves Sweeping Gun Bill

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate approved a sweeping overhaul of the state’s gun laws Thursday, but not before stripping out a key provision that would have given local police chiefs more discretion over issuing firearms identification cards needed to buy rifles or shotguns.

The Senate bill had initially included the measure — which is part of a similar bill passed by the House — but it was eliminated during debate. The Senate bill would maintain current law, which limits chiefs to conducting background checks before issuing FID cards.

The bill, which mirrored many other aspects of the House bill, was approved on a voice vote. That means the votes of individual senators were not recorded.

Gun rights activists hailed the change.

“I’m very pleased with what the Senate did today,” said John Hohenwarter, the National Rifle Association’s government affairs director for Massachusetts. “The bill’s in much better shape that it was when it came over from the House.”

Gun safety advocates said the change guts the bill.

John Rosenthal, of the group Stop Handgun Violence, said giving police chiefs added discretion over the issuing of FID cards was the single most important aspect of the bill.

“Without it, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on,” Rosenthal said. “Shame on the Massachusetts Senate. Sadly they voted against police chiefs and against public safety and for the special interest gun lobby and people will die as a result.”

James Timilty, Senate chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the change was in keeping with the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

He rejected the idea that the Senate bowed to pressure from the gun lobby when it accepted the amendment on a 28-11 vote.

“There was no pressure from angry gun owners,” said Timilty, D-Walpole. “This was something I felt very strongly about.”

Sen. Cynthia Creem, who opposed the amendment, said she was told that the NRA had pressed lawmakers to strip out the language.

“It wasn’t until today that I had any inkling that that amendment would have had any traction,” the Newton Democrat said.

Jim Wallace, head of the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League, credited the change on lobbying efforts by members of the group, who made calls and sent emails to lawmakers.

“It was an education process, It’s not just a matter of slamming your fist on the table and demanding somebody vote some way,” he said. “It’s explaining why you want something to happen or don’t want to happen.”

Like the House bill, the Senate proposal would create a web-based portal within the state Executive Office of Public Safety to allow for real-time background checks in private gun sales and would stiffen penalties for some gun-based crimes. It would also create a firearms trafficking unit within the State Police.

Both bills would also require schools to have access to two-way communication devices with police and fire departments and mandate that Massachusetts join the National Instant Background Check System, which requires the state to transmit information about substance abuse or mental health commitments to a federal database for use by police in reviewing firearms applications.

Both bills now head to a six-member House and Senate conference committee to hammer out a single, compromise bill.

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  • Dataninja

    Not a good idea. This is the kind of guy that will get a gun without that.

  • D. G.

    Even as a layman, it was obvious to me that the “discretion” part of this bill was un-Constitutional, so the Senate did a wise thing by removing it.

    If Massachusetts Police Chiefs are given discretion over FID cards, that would contravene the US Supreme Court which recently ruled, very conclusively (Heller 2008, McDonald 2010), that the 2nd Amendment is a fundamental right which entitles non-disqualified persons to own a firearm. This right is enforceable against the states and against it, the states can not raise regulations to the point of prohibition. Simply put, even if one person is denied their rights via the “discretion” of a Police Chief (or other functionary), that breaches a myriad of Federal protections against state overreach.

    I am solidly pro-gun, but even so; if it were up to me to write a gun law, I would do it as follows:

    1. All non-disqualified (per statutory criteria, not mere “discretion”) adults can own handguns, rifles and shotguns except that no handgun ownership would be allowed under age 21 unless the license application is sponsored by a current permit holder.

    2. No concealed carry permits under age 25, unless required for work.

    3. In addition to what’s allowed by an LTC, all legally owned handguns can be transported to and from gun club, regardless of “license to carry”.

    4. Police Chiefs would still be “Licensing Authorities”, but the state would issue to them a “best practices” handbook, which outlines a clear set of criteria for determining “unsuitability”.

    5. Upon written request, any applicant who requests an application interview with his/her chief, will be granted one.

    6. At the meeting, the chief will review with the applicant all the facts relating to the application, including the results of the criminal history check. The chief will also indicate whether or not he intends to issue the license; and if not, why not.

    7. For any applicant who is declined, the chief should be required to specify what steps the applicant must successfully undertake to move from “unsuitable” to “suitable”.

    A framework such as this would create a more just licensing process by changing the system from its inherently arbitrary state of yes/no “discretion” to a reasonably attainable pathway of licensure. And absent something like this, there’s no way that giving the police chiefs more discretion (over FIDs) is Constitutional.

    • fun bobby

      lets be realistic for a moment. no one with an FID is out committing crimes. the gun crime is caused by teenagers with pistols in our cities for the most part.

  • X-Ray

    We need effective enforcement of current gun laws, not more laws which apply only to the law-abiding citizen and are ignored by criminals.

  • fun bobby

    Thank God, now we just have to keep the pressure on and make sure they don’t try to snake it back in during the compromise. that provision was wrong because it allowed discrimination.

  • fun bobby

    “Shame on the Massachusetts Senate. Sadly they voted against police chiefs and against public safety and for the special interest gun lobby and people will die as a result.”
    “voted against police chiefs” being able to decide based on their whims who may exercise a basic civil right a power which they constantly and consistently abuse when it comes to LTC applications over which they still have almost unlimited discretion.
    Racial gender and class discrimination is not in the interest of public safety.
    Zero people will die as a result of this bill, I would love that guy to find any examples of a person getting an FID in MA that a police chief did not want to issue and then committing a crime with it. there is not one. in fact its most likely that this will save the lives of some poor people who would otherwise be denied an FID because their city police chief decides not to issue any to anyone like they do for LTC in boston, Worcester, Lowell and anywhere else there are a lot of poor minorities in this state.
    Good on our state senators for being smarter and more righteous than our cowardly and stupid house of reps

  • crescentfang

    I don’t own a gun but I do understand that allowing police chiefs to deny people the right to buy a gun without any reason at all violates the second ammendment. Passing obviously unconstitutional laws is a waste of lawyers fees and the Commonwealth has better uses for the money.

  • fun bobby

    they waited till after the bill passed to release your comment the sickos

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