New tracking and monitoring systems, an explicit ban on carrying firearms in many public spaces and licensing changes headline a sweeping new gun safety bill unveiled by a top House Democrat on Monday.
A little more than a year after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling effectively overturned concealed carry laws in Massachusetts and several other states, Judiciary Committee Co-chair Rep. Michael Day filed a voluminous proposal ranging from new offenses for firing a weapon at or near a dwelling to regulations aimed at reining in the spread of untraceable "ghost guns."
The bill represents a template that House Speaker Ron Mariano, who last year tasked Day with completing a comprehensive review of the state's gun laws, could use to pursue action as soon as this summer.
Day's office in a press release highlighted three primary themes of the legislation, which is poised to generate significant debate between gun owners and gun safety reform supporters: stemming the flow of illegal firearms into Massachusetts, limiting the impact of gun violence on communities, and modernizing firearm laws to better deal with gun modifications.
In an interview with the State House News Service, the Stoneham Democrat said much of the effort aims to address "gaps in our criminal laws" that bad actors are exploiting to traffic firearms and avoid detection by law enforcement.
"The licensing laws that we have on the books work, right? We've got the lowest rate of gun deaths in the continental U.S. of all gun deaths," Day told the News Service. "The rate of gun deaths is still increasing, as they are nationwide, and Massachusetts isn't immune to that."
Day's office said he crafted the bill based on feedback from advocates and officials as well as a "listening tour" that stopped in 11 regions of the state.
One major focus of the bill is on "ghost guns," or untraceable firearms that circumvent police scrutiny. Day's office said the Boston Police Department reported a 280% increase in the number of untraceable ghost guns recovered on the streets between 2019 and 2021.
With homemade, hard-to-track firearms becoming increasingly common, the bill would require both receivers — which are the parts onto which most other gun pieces are attached — and barrels to be serialized and registered.
"That will give our law enforcement folks another leg up to say 'Hey, somebody's out here compiling 50 barrels. What's going on here?' They can take a look at what actually is happening, whether this is now a trafficking situation," Day said. "We think taking a look at those pieces themselves, that will allow us to start getting a better grip on where these guns are coming from, these untraceable firearms, and who's putting them out into the stream of commerce."
The bill would also call for a new law enforcement database tracking guns used in crimes, surrendered or seized, addressing an issue that Day described as agencies not "talking to each other as they should be."
Another section makes explicit a prohibition on carrying firearms in schools, colleges, universities, government buildings and polling places as well as any private property — including for residential, commercial and industrial uses — where an owner has not given consent.
Day said that measure in particular was "spawned" by the U.S. Supreme Court's New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen decision, which struck down a concealed-carry law in New York similar to one that had been in place here.
The bill would also ban carrying a firearm while intoxicated from alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.
On the licensing end, the legislation would require live firearm training and streamline the application process, the latter of which Day said was a change requested by gun ownership advocacy groups like the Gun Owners Action League.
"We heard loud and clear from GOAL and others that the licensing scheme was confusing in places, contradictory, that there have been multiple laws over the years just layered on top of one another," Day said. "So we have a substantial rewrite of the licensing laws to consolidate and reorganize those sections into a single, unified process with consistent standards, with consistent definitions that will enable somebody who's a responsible gun owner to understand what they have to do to get a license to carry and what boxes they need to check from the local licensing authority side."
Still, Day forecast that the proposal will generate "opposition and support from all quarters" given its vast size and numerous provisions.
GOAL quickly panned the legislation, referring to it in a post on the group's website as "The Lawful Citizens Imprisonment Act."
"This bill was supposedly the results of the so-called listening tour. Apparently, no one was listening, because everyone who attended said lawful gun [sic] were not the problem. This proposal does not represent that premise at all! In just a cursory review of the proposal it is obvious that it represents a full-scale attack on the Second Amendment in the Commonwealth," the group wrote, stressing that its members are still reviewing the bill.
Ruth Zakarin, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said she is also still unpacking the full implications of the proposal but praised it as a sign of "forward motion."
"What's jumping out at me is how comprehensive it is. There was some real attention on having a comprehensive response to gun violence in the commonwealth," Zakarin said. "We know that gun violence, being such a complex issue, there is no one policy or one fix that is the answer to how we best prevent gun violence. It takes a complex response."
In the wake of the Bruen decision last year, Bay State lawmakers adjusted the process of obtaining a concealed carry permit.
Mariano signaled at the time that he wanted broader action, and tasked Day with finding ways in the 2023-2024 term "to bolster our existing laws through an omnibus gun safety bill."
Day rolled out the legislation Monday with a statement of support from the speaker.
"While the Commonwealth's gun laws are among the best in the nation, unrelenting acts of violence and the Supreme Court's deleterious Bruen decision demand legislative action both here in Massachusetts and on the Federal level," Mariano said. "It is my hope that the work we do here will not only make Massachusetts a safer place to live, but will serve as a national model for Congress and other states."
In a typical year, gun violence kills 255 people in Massachusetts and wounds another 557, according to the gun violence prevention group Everytown for Gun Safety, which credited the Bay State with the lowest rate of gun violence in the United States.
Between 2012 and 2021, the rate of gun deaths stayed roughly the same in Massachusetts while increasing nationwide 39%, Everytown's data analysis shows.
"The Commonwealth has long been a national example of how strong gun safety laws work — today we renew our commitment in tackling gun violence at its core," said Moms Demand Action Massachusetts chapter volunteer Jennifer Robinson. "With firearms as the leading cause of death for children and teens, it is vital for our lawmakers to continue to pass measures that protect families across the Bay State."
The omnibus bill will head to the Judiciary Committee for review, and Day said he hopes it gets aired at a public hearing before emerging for a vote in either chamber.
It's not clear whether House Democrats will press to bring the legislation to the floor before Beacon Hill shifts into summer vacation mode. Day said he is not sure about the timeline for action.
"I've got 199 other colleagues in the House and Senate. They're going to have their opinions, they're going to have thoughts on this bill," he said. "From our perspective, the focus on resident safety is paramount to this whole piece, so hopefully they share the urgency to move this along."