Guns for sale are displayed on a wall at a gun store during April 2023
Guns for sale are displayed on a wall at a gun store during April 2023 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: How the Massachusetts’ Bruen-Response Bill Has Changed [Member Exclusive]

Massachusetts lawmakers are back with another attempt to pass sweeping gun legislation and blunt the effects of the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision. As with its failed previous effort, the new proposal aims to go much further than any other state’s efforts.

Massachusetts Representative Michael Day (D.) introduced HD 4607 last week. The bill replaces HD 4420—a sweeping 140-page bill its critics dubbed the “Lawful Citizens Imprisonment Act.” Its onerous regulations ultimately proved too controversial for even the state’s supermajority Democratic-controlled House to advance. Now, Day is back with a new bill, ostensibly meant to address some of the concerns critics had with his original effort, but no less aimed at the High Court.

“The U.S. Supreme Court, too, under the sway of a new conservative majority, has weakened gun safety laws and made it easier for millions of Americans to carry and use guns in public,” Day wrote in an Op-ed touting his bill published with Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano (D.). “We believe the Supreme Court’s recent decision was dangerous, and that we can and must do more in Massachusetts.”

It’s worth examining how different the new proposal is from the initial effort.

Carry Restrictions

The provisions aimed at cracking down on public carry, essentially the crux of Bruen-response bill efforts, remain largely unchanged in HD 4607 from the previous bill.

As part of the carry permit application process, the bill would keep the state’s current application fee of $100 in place and specify that permits are valid for six years. It would also incorporate live fire and a written exam into the training requirements an applicant must meet before applying for a license.

The exact specifications of the training course would be left to the Massachusetts State Police to establish via rulemaking at a later date. It would also appear to allow for some discretion on the part of licensing authorities to determine the “unsuitability” of a permit applicant based on evidence suggesting the applicant “may create a risk to public safety.”

The bill also creates many new sensitive places where licensed carry is prohibited, similar to those enacted in New YorkNew JerseyMarylandHawaii, and California. It would make it a crime punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and two and a half years in prison to possess a firearm, loaded or unloaded, on the grounds or parking areas of any government building, polling place, or educational institution. It would do the same for any publicly accessible private property, such as a store or restaurant, unless the owner affirmatively provides consent for licensed carry on the premises.

In some ways, the proposed restrictions are less onerous than the gun-free zones passed by other states that had their carry laws struck down by the Supreme Court—though they remain far more strict than most states.

Extreme Risk Protection Order Expansion

Perhaps the most significant change in the updated gun-control bill is the inclusion of a major expansion of the state’s already-existing statute allowing a person to have their guns confiscated if a judge determines they are a threat to themselves or others.

Under current law, only family members or law enforcement are permitted to file a petition with a judge. HD 4607 would expand that to allow licensed physicians, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nurse practitioners, certified clinical nurse specialists, certified psychiatric clinical nurse specialists, licensed psychiatrists, licensed psychologists, licensed mental health counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed independent clinical social workers, licensed certified social workers, a principal or assistant principal of an elementary school or secondary school, administrators of a college or university where the respondent is enrolled, and employers to file petitions as well.

The petition provides the option for an emergency order in which the respondent would not be notified of the filing and could have their firearms and ammunition confiscated for up to 10 days before a judge has ever heard the case. There is no right to court-provided legal counsel for the accused. However, the bill’s language stipulates that filers of false or malicious petitions could face up to $5,000 in fines and up to two and a half years in prison.

Banning “Assault-Style Firearms” and Magazines

Much like HD 4420, the new bill would expand the state’s restrictions on so-called assault-style weapons by broadening the state’s definition of banned guns to include any semi-automatic rifle, pistol, or shotgun that can accept a detachable magazine and has one or more listed cosmetic features, any “semiautomatic version of any fully automatic firearm,” any “automatic part,” and an extensive list of hundreds of firearms listed by make and model. The state’s previous ban merely listed banned “assault weapons” by make and model, in addition to prohibiting any “copies or duplicates” of said guns as determined by the discretion of the Attorney General.

However, unlike bill 4420, HD 4607 provides a grandfathering option for owners of the newly banned weapons provided that the owner possesses the firearms before August 1, 2024, has a valid license to carry, and registers the covered weapons with the state. “Large capacity” magazines, defined as those capable of holding more than ten rounds, are banned unless they were continuously owned before September 13, 1994. Grandfathered magazines would only be able to be used on private property or at licensed gun ranges.

The Rest

The remainder of the controversial provisions from the initial bill, namely those related to so-called ghost guns, gun registration requirements, “smart gun” mandates, safe storage requirements, and changes to permit-to-purchase procedures that essentially ban adults under the age of 21 from purchasing any semi-automatic long gun all appear to have carried over to this latest bill in nearly identical format from HD 4420.

The updated bill, ostensibly created to be more palatable to critics of the initial effort, primarily traded minor grandfathering allowances for certain semi-automatic weapons in exchange for a massive expansion of the state’s red-flag law. Expect the widespread backlash from gun-rights advocates to be just as intense this time around.

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