It’s been a hectic week for news about gun laws. After a barrage of high-profile mass shootings, among them one that left 19 students and two teachers dead at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the United States Senate passed its first significant gun reform in years Thursday. But on the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision striking down limits on carrying guns in public in New York. GBH News reporter Rebecca Tauber joined Morning Edition host Jeremy Siegel to explain what the ruling means for gun laws in Massachusetts, from the perspectives of gun owners, anti-violence advocates and police chiefs. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Jeremy Siegel: Congress took a huge step toward breaking a decades-long impasse on gun reform when the Senate passed a bill aimed at keeping guns out of potentially dangerous people's hands. But just hours before that bill passed the Supreme Court issued a major ruling on gun laws, one that could have a significant impact here in Massachusetts.
Here to explain is GBH News reporter Rebecca Tauber. This ruling that you've been reporting on strikes down a New York law limiting who can carry guns outside of their home. So what does this have to do with Massachusetts?
Rebecca Tauber: The Supreme Court ruling is specifically about a New York law, but everybody is talking about how it will have ramifications for states like Massachusetts, California and Hawaii, that have similar laws. And so the New York law requires people who want to carry guns outside their home to have "proper cause." Massachusetts doesn't have that exact same law, but what they have is a law that lets police chiefs deny licenses to people they deem "unsuitable." That's similar in that it's restricting people who want to carry guns outside their home. And so people are expecting that this ruling will challenge Massachusetts laws as well.
Siegel: Is it a guarantee that Massachusetts laws will change? And if that does, how soon could that happen?
Tauber: This is what we'll have to see. The ruling yesterday specifically struck down a New York law. But now that that's happened, somebody who is denied a license in Massachusetts today could say they want to take this up the chain and start to litigate that. Also on the other side, Massachusetts state legislators who have largely, especially Democrats, come out against this, are going to try to amend the wording of Massachusetts laws to try to keep them in line with the new Supreme Court ruling, in line with how they said the Second Amendment should be interpreted.
Siegel: What is the reaction you've heard to this? I mean, gun laws are something that everybody has thoughts on. What have you heard in response to this New York law here in Massachusetts?
Tauber: Gun rights advocates, people arguing in support of the Second Amendment, they're really excited about this. They took yesterday as a win. On the other side, gun control activists are saying this will lead to more deaths. CDC data shows that Massachusetts has some of the lowest rates in the country of deaths by firearms. And so activists are definitely worried about that.
I talked to John Rosenthal from Stop Handgun Violence and he said to me, "I'm a gun owner, but I'm in favor of restricting gun ownership, who can carry guns, to make sure we do this safely." So he and similar advocates are upset about that. President [Joe] Biden came out against this, Sen. Ed Markey, Attorney General Maura Healey, lots of people are upset about this. I don't want to speak categorically on behalf of every police chief in Massachusetts. But I spoke with the police chief from Lawrence, Roy Vasque, and he said that he's worried about this. He said he denies licenses to people that he thinks would be dangerous.
Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque: I have my situations where I deny licenses, where we revoke licenses and we deal with appeals of those as well, so it's not uncommon. It happens. But I think Massachusetts requiring a license to carry a firearm and getting a license in order to carry that in public, I think is a good thing. I think basing those on factors like criminal history and even mental history and things like that I think is a no-brainer. So certainly it's concerning that some changes may result in that as a result of this ruling.
"Basing [gun lisence decisions" on factors like criminal history and even mental history and things like that, I think, is a no-brainer."-Lawrence Chief of Police Roy Vasque
Siegel: You hinted a little earlier about how you're expecting action from state legislators. What are lawmakers planning to do?
Tauber: We don't know exactly. This just came out yesterday. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a concurring opinion saying that it would be okay to use an objective criteria to restrict carrying guns outside the home — things like background checks, fingerprinting, things like that —as opposed to more subjective criteria, like giving police chiefs discretion. So I think we're going to start to see legislators try to look for more objective markers in amending these laws to keep some sort of restriction in place.
Siegel: This is just one crease in a web of things happening involving guns in the U.S. right now. I mentioned earlier the bill making its way through Congress. What else exactly is going on when it comes to gun control in the U.S., in Massachusetts? And how are you making sense of it as you report this story?
Tauber: This is the first Second Amendment case the Supreme Court has taken up since 2008. We're also seeing rare bipartisan support in the Senate for this bill that some people think doesn't go far enough, but is definitely a step after years and years of people trying to take action and not being able to. And so, these two things kind of feel in conflict. Sen. Ed Markey in his statement said this isn't just about gun control, this is also about, as he said, stolen seats on the Supreme Court, a far-right bench. And so I think lots of people are feeling like we're in this moment where what the Senate and Congress are doing and what the Supreme Court is doing are kind of in tension. And then, of course, we're seeing protests across the country in the wake of weeks of violence, what feels like nonstop, really tragic mass shootings. And it definitely feels like action is being taken in different directions right now.