Top House Democrats will back down from their controversial push to approve a 140-page omnibus gun reform measure before lawmakers break for vacation in August.
Less than a week after he convened a series of closed-doors meetings to hear from representatives about the sweeping proposal unveiled June 26, House Speaker Ron Mariano told his chamber Monday evening that the new goal is to bring the measure forward in autumn.
"While the House's commitment to pursuing a comprehensive update remains steadfast, a new legal landscape will be the greatest threat to those efforts. That is why the House believes that we must thoroughly evaluate all of the proposals made in [the legislation] over the Summer, and that House Members must have the chance to continue to speak with their constituents and provide feedback," Mariano wrote in a message obtained by the News Service. "House leadership will continue to work on the bill until it is ready for debate this Fall."
The retreat punts for at least a month, and possibly longer, action on legislation that drew incendiary criticism from firearm owners and set off a procedural fight with Senate Democrats.
Mariano had signaled that he wanted the bill to win House approval by the end of July, before lawmakers begin to filter out for a traditional slow period in August, and might muscle it through without a formal committee review because of disagreements with senators over which panel should lead that process.
The Quincy Democrat did not outline a path forward through the intraparty House-Senate squabble, reiterating his view that the Judiciary Committee — which bill author Rep. Michael Day co-chairs — should be tasked with convening the public hearing to solicit feedback on the legislation because of its work in response to previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Mariano pointed to an assault weapons regulation bill from the 2021-2022 session that the House sent to the Public Safety Committee and the Senate wanted to send to the Judiciary Committee — a preference the House accommodated. The legislation ultimately died in a study order.
"The House believes that the Joint Committee on the Judiciary is uniquely equipped to navigate the legal challenges brought on by SCOTUS decisions, just as it did during our initial response to Bruen and the overturning of Roe," Mariano wrote. "We remain disappointed that the Senate delayed our intended review of this gun violence legislation by insisting on its referral to the Public Safety Committee, despite the fact that just last year, the Senate insisted that a different late-filed bill proposing changes to our gun laws be referred to Judiciary instead of Public Safety."
The speaker continued, "Regardless, you have my word that we will spend the ensuing weeks working with you to address concerns and questions you and your constituents may have about the proposed legislation."
Senate Democrats have said they are interested in pursuing some kind of firearms legislation this session, particularly to deal with a recent uptick in untraceable "ghost guns" that law enforcement officials have observed, without outlining any specific timeline or details.
They offered to convene a hearing on "all gun safety matters" this month before the Public Safety Committee to "ensure that all voices are heard before any decisions are made," but the offer never found favor in the House.
Representatives huddled for a pair of private summits Mariano and Day hosted last week. During those meetings, Mariano said in his message to lawmakers, many questions "were centered around the challenging new legal landscape" in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen that forced states to rethink their firearms licensing laws.
"As you have heard me say many times, the Bruen decision fundamentally changed how courts review state gun laws and immediately jeopardized aspects of the laws that have made our Commonwealth a national leader in reducing gun violence," Mariano wrote.
Day's bill stretches across a wide range of gun-related issues, including proposed reforms to red flag laws, right-to-carry provisions, requirements to register firearm parts, and new limits on public spaces where firearms are allowed.
Second Amendment and gun owners groups have been vocal in their criticism of the proposal. The National Association for Gun Rights suggested its members consider leaving Massachusetts because their firearms rights are "at serious risk in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," and the Massachusetts-based Gun Owners Action League called the bill "a historic attack against the entire 2A community."