The Massachusetts House and Senate have now passed bills aimed at cracking down on untraceable weapons known as ghost guns, and otherwise strengthening the state's gun laws. Next, legislators will take their negotiations behind closed doors. Here’s what to know about the bills up for consideration, according to GBH statehouse reporter Katie Lannan.
What changes to Massachusetts gun laws are in the new bills?
More than half of the 161 people killed in homicides in 2022 died by gunfire, according to crime statistics collected by state police.
“When you talk to the lawmakers who are behind this push, the thing they say is, yes, the gun laws here in Massachusetts are strong. But that doesn't mean that they can rest on their laurels,” Lannan said. “And part of this is to respond to technology.”
The Senate bill includes language on 3D-printed weapons, sometimes called “ghost guns.” It would also prohibit advertising or marketing guns to minors, who cannot legally purchase firearms.
There are also efforts to make sure gun violence prevention is community-based and effective.
“There [are] some pieces in this bill that look at making sure that the way the state funds community gun violence prevention and efforts taken on that front, that they're working, that the money is going to effective organizations, that it's mirroring the needs of communities, rather than being kind of dictated from Beacon Hill,” Lannan said.
There are two versions of this bill, one in the House and one in the Senate. How do they differ?
There’s a lot of common ground, Lannan said, but some key differences.
“The Senate's bill is 94 pages shorter than the House, and it is a matter of degrees on a lot of the specifics,” Lannan said. “Both expand the state's red flag law, allowing more people to petition the courts to remove the firearms of someone deemed to be a danger.”
Both bills would allow health care providers to ask courts to take guns away from people who may pose a danger to themselves or others. The House version also includes employers and school administrators.
The Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association has backed the Senate version of the bill, something Senate President Karen Spilka said was important to her.
“It doesn't make sense to pass laws that that cannot be implemented or that are not reasonable, or don't make sense, to put it bluntly,” Spilka said. “So it was very important that we got the feedback.”
Who is opposing this legislation?
Most of the Republicans in the state legislature have opposed the bills, Lannan said, though Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr did back the final version.
“They're echoing concerns expressed by Second Amendment groups, sportsmen clubs, gun owners and the groups that advocate for them,” she said. “There is a notable opposition. However, in the Legislature, almost all the Democrats back it. And that's what matters. They have enough numbers to get a bill through.”
Tarr has said he supports the Senate version’s more narrow focus, Lannan said.
“One of the things he said was that he liked some of the amendments that really refined the bill's focus on people using guns to commit crimes rather than gun owners who follow the law, who get licensed,” Lannan said.
What happens now?
Until now the process has been more public, with open meetings and published draft versions of the bills.
But as the process moves forward, a team of six legislators — three from the House and three from the Senate — will negotiate away from the public eye.
“What's going to happen now is it's going to move into essentially closed-door negotiations,” Lannan said “We're not really going to be able to follow the path of the bill anymore. … We won't know kind of who's saying what to them or what any sticking points might be. But the ultimate goal here will be to get a bill to Governor Healey, reach agreement by July 31st. After that date, Republicans will have more leverage and could block the bill from advancing.”