Days after top Democrats in the Massachusetts House rolled out a revised version of wide-ranging gun legislation they hope to pass in the next five weeks, the bill has sparked intense public interest.
More than 160 people signed up to testify at a Tuesday hearing that stretched on for several hours.
State representatives heard from gun violence survivors and violence-prevention advocates, representatives of the Catholic Church, members of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus and the top prosecutor in Hampden County, all voicing their support for the latest update to the state’s firearm regulations.
Meanwhile, gun owners raised concerns that the proposal infringes on their Second Amendment rights and argued that legislative efforts are better targeted toward issues like domestic violence, mental health and reforming the criminal justice system.
Many supporters made the case that the state’s strict gun laws have saved lives and said the new bill would continue that momentum.
“A hundred and eighteen people will die today due to gun violence in the United States of America,” said Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, a Springfield Democrat and member of the Black and Latino caucus. “These statistics speak for themselves and it is our moral obligation to take action. Let us come together, regardless of our personal views, to hold illegal gun owners accountable and adopt measures that will effectively curb the illegal sale and distribution of firearms.”
The 123-page bill proposes an array of changes, including measures aimed at cracking down on untraceable, homemade weapons known as ghost guns and new restrictions on where guns can be carried. It would prohibit someone from carrying a firearm in polling places, schools and government buildings, or in a home without the owner’s permission.
Jim Wallace of the Gun Owners Action League called the bill “the most egregious attack on civil rights I have seen from a government in this century, in Massachusetts and nationwide.”
"This is nothing but a tantrum after Bruen," Wallace said, referencing the 2022 Supreme Court ruling that struck down New York's concealed-carry law. "And even though there's nothing in here to reduce crime, suicides and everything else — first time in my career I'm going to say this — you might have a bigger problem because 600,000 lawful citizens are going to tap out. We're done. We're done. Twenty-five years of trying to comply with the garbage laws that have only increased crime and suicide in Massachusetts, and now you're going to do it again, and make it worse?"
Wayne Adams of the Massachusetts Conservation Alliance said the bill imposes new training requirements and other restrictions that add to the cost and regulatory burden for sport shooters and hunters.
“We're driving law-abiding citizens out of it and it's going to just put more criminals at a better advantage because there's going to be less people being able to protect themselves through the Second Amendment with these laws, these infringements,” Adams said.
Adams and other critics warned that if the bill passes, it could face challenges on constitutional grounds. Rolling out the bill last week, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael Day said the proposed ban on carrying guns in "sensitive spaces" was entrenched "firmly on constitutional grounds."
Top House Democrats want to hold a vote on the bill sometime before state lawmakers recess for the year on Nov. 15, and state senators are also working to produce their own gun bill.
Tia Christensen, a fellow with Everytown for Gun Safety and a volunteer for Moms Demand Action, called Massachusetts a "national example of how strong gun safety laws and investments in community-based programs can keep us safe."
Christensen recalled her experience at the 2017 Las Vegas music festival that turned into a deadly mass shooting when a gunman opened fire from a hotel, killing 58 and injuring hundreds more. She said she sat alone in a dark hotel room, "waiting for gunfire to spray through my room, truly believing my time had come," and still lives with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
She said the new bill would give law enforcement the tools they need to keep Massachusetts communities safe.
One new tool legal and law enforcement professionals would have under the bill is the ability to charge someone with a new, specific criminal offense for firing a gun into a home or building.
Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said a gap in current laws makes those instances difficult to prosecute.
"Shootings into homes have become commonplace in Springfield, Holyoke, and across this commonwealth. This is a tactic used deliberately to intimidate, harass and terrorize the people inside who are often just witnesses in criminal cases or merely family members of gang enemies," he said.