Supporters of a bill to prohibit gunmakers in the state from manufacturing assault weapons for civilian use are making a renewed push to get the ban enacted in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
Massachusetts has among the strictest gun laws in the nation, yet until recently, was also its top gun manufacturer, producing 1.8 million guns in 2018, according to data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That includes an unknown number of assault rifles, even though Massachusetts law has long prohibited them from being owned or sold in the state.
Proponents of the ban say that Massachusetts companies should not be making assault weapons for civilian use in other states either.
“We all have to get together and look at things we can do” to further tighten the state’s gun limits, said Senator Cynthia Stone Creem of Newton, lead sponsor of the Senate version of the bill. “This is not a movement to go against the Second Amendment. That’s not what was intended when I filed this.”
Gunmen in some of the nation’s deadliest shootings wielded military-style assault rifles manufactured by Springfield-based Smith & Wesson, including in shootings in Aurora, Colo., in 2012; San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015; and Parkland, Fla., in 2018. The Uvalde shooter used a semiautomatic rifle manufactured by Daniel Defense, which is based in Georgia.
“It is immoral at best for Massachusetts, on one hand, to say these weapons are too dangerous to be sold or owned in our state, but it’s perfectly fine for them to be made and shipped to make mass shootings more prevalent in every other state,” John Rosenthal, cofounder of Stop Handgun Violence, said.
Last year, Creem and other state legislators introduced bills to ban gunmakers from making assault weapons and large capacity feeding devices in the state, while exempting the manufacture of the weapons for sale to military, law enforcement, or foreign governments. But the bills haven’t moved out of the Judiciary Committee.
“We are going to pull a full-court press on getting this bill passed,” Rosenthal said, adding that he called House Speaker Ronald Mariano this week to request a meeting to discuss getting the bill passed.
At least three states — New York, New Jersey, and California — prohibit the manufacture of assault weapons, according to Representative Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, one of the bill’s lead House sponsors. She said she’s “optimistic” there’s still an opportunity for the bill to move forward.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Gun Owners’ Action League, said his group hasn’t made opposing the bill a priority.
“It’s just the social bigotry that the Second Amendment community faces in this state,” he said. “It’s one of those bills that — if you want to pass it and destroy more jobs in the state and further persecute a lawful industry and a lawful way of life, OK.”
As of 2020, based on the most recent ATF data available, Massachusetts was home to 22 gun manufacturers.
It’s unclear how many of those manufactured assault rifles, specifically, but the total number of guns manufactured in the state dropped significantly in recent years, from 1.8 million in 2018 to 45,000 in 2020, largely due to Smith & Wesson shifting a large share of its manufacturing operations to Missouri.
The firearm behemoth, which has been headquartered in Springfield since it was founded in 1852, announced to investors last September that it planned to consolidate operations at a new facility in Knoxville, Tenn., specifically citing Massachusetts’ proposed ban on manufacturing assault weapons, which accounted for 60 percent of its sales.
But ATF data show the number of guns the company reported manufacturing in the state had already dropped from 1.4 million in 2018 to 8,000 in 2019. In 2020, the company reported manufacturing 4,000 guns in Massachusetts and 2.3 million guns in Missouri.
Smith & Wesson did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
If enacted, it’s possible the bill could run into legal challenges. Lawrence Keane, senior vice president for the trade group the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told the Globe last year that Massachusetts can’t regulate commerce involving other states.
“Smith & Wesson can step up to the plate and follow the good sense of Colt,” said Creem, referring to the Connecticut gun giant’s decision to stop manufacturing assault weapons in 2019.
Mariano did not comment directly on the manufacturing ban bill, but his office released a statement saying he has spoken with House leaders of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committees “to ensure Massachusetts continues to be a national leader in gun safety.”