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The Argument: Should Massachusetts set an annual cap on gun purchases by an individual?

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Gary Klein

Research fellow at the Violence Policy Center; former Mass. assistant attorney general responsible for civil enforcement of gun laws; Medford resident

Gary KleinDennis Kavanagh

In the midst of a nationwide increase in gun violence and dangerous extremism, the United States Supreme Court saw fit this summer to issue a decision that expands the rights of Americans to carry guns — anywhere and everywhere — for self-defense.

Fortunately — in the interest of public safety — legislators in Massachusetts continue to consider enacting laws that are consistent with the Second Amendment, including measures limiting the public places where guns can be carried, clarifying our already strong safe storage requirements, updating the state’s assault weapons ban, and criminalizing manufacture and purchase of untraceable ghost guns.


One other form of regulation that is consistent with both the recent Supreme Court decision and with legitimate concerns about public safety is a restriction on the number of firearms that can be bought each year with a single gun license. Such a law — which could easily be implemented by tweaking the Commonwealth’s presale license check and registration process — would help stop people from quickly building vast arsenals of weapons to hoard or to sell over a short interval.

Not surprisingly, a study of data tracking guns found that people who make bulk purchases often do so in order to traffic them to criminals. Similarly, recent mass shootings demonstrate that others who engage in bulk gun purchases do so because they nurse a personal or political grievance. Mass murderers like Stephen Paddock bought nearly three dozen guns in the year before he killed 60 people from a Las Vegas hotel window in 2017.

There is also reason to believe that privately maintained arsenals are targets for theft. Safe storage of two or three guns is hard enough in the face of a determined thief; Safe storage of a hundred guns in a private home is nearly impossible.


Nobody should have to live next door to someone who maintains an arsenal of dangerous weapons. Nor should local police have to take the risk inherent in visiting a home where dozens of guns are stored. It is time for Massachusetts to join other states — including California, New Jersey, and Maryland — that reasonably limit the number of guns that can be bought over a short period of time. No one needs more than one or two guns for effective self-defense.


Jim Wallace

Executive director of Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts; Newburyport resident

Jim Wallace

For more than two decades, the trend in the Commonwealth has been to lay the blame for violent crime at the feet of lawful gun owners. The proposal to limit annual gun purchases by an individual is no different. The concept itself is nothing short of profiling, something most of the country finds unacceptable.

For the record, there already are laws and regulations in place that allow the government to track multiple gun sales. Any licensed retailer who sells more than one handgun to a person within five business days is required to report those sales to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. This allows the bureau to investigate whether multiple sales are connected to criminal activity.

The Commonwealth has very strong gun theft and trafficking laws on the books, most of which I helped write. Even the unlawful transaction of a single firearm is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Ten or more is a potential life sentence. To date, I have not heard of these laws being used.


With all of this in place, where is the evidence that points to lawful gun owners being connected to criminal activity?

The basic premise of crime control through harsh gun control laws in Massachusetts has been a failure of epic proportions. That record was demonstrated in a report the Gun Owners Action League issued in 2018 and updated in 2022, drawing upon state and federal crime data. The 2020 update found that since the passage of the state Gun Control Act of 1998, gun-related homicides have increased 111 percent: from 63 in 1998 to 133 in 2020.

The 2018 report shows that in 2017, Massachusetts — per 100,000 people — was arguably the most violent state in the Northeast. Notably Maine, which has much less strict gun laws than Massachusetts, was the least violent state in the country.

What does all this mean? Simply put, the reliance on restricting the civil rights of lawful citizens to reduce crime hasn’t worked. So why would passing more of those same types of laws be any more effective? The Commonwealth needs to do away with its grand social experiment on guns and refocus its efforts on dealing directly with the criminal element.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.