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Mass. House delays vote on gun bill until the fall, blaming impasse with Senate

Massachusetts House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Debate on a wide-ranging gun bill will no longer happen before the Massachusetts Legislature’s August recess, the House speaker announced in a late-night e-mail Monday, the latest fallout from bureaucratic infighting on Beacon Hill.

In his message, House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano blamed his counterparts in the Senate for the delay.

The gun bill has yet to have a public hearing in this legislative session, because leaders haven’t been able to agree on which committee should hold the event, typically the main forum in which residents and interest groups can give feedback to lawmakers. The bill was filed nearly a month ago.


“We remain disappointed that the Senate delayed our intended review of this gun violence legislation by insisting on its referral to the Public Safety Committee,” Mariano said in a statement sent to lawmakers at 8:42 p.m. Monday night.

At issue is a 140-page package of gun control measures, seeking to stem the flow of illegal firearms into the state and target so-called ghost guns, among other things. The bill has received praise from gun control supporters and drawn the ire of others, including GOP politicians, some police chiefs, and the Liberal Gun Club, a pro-Second Amendment voice for left-of-center gun owners.

While Beacon Hill leaders continue to squabble over which committee should hold a hearing on the legislation, critics of the bill see the delay as an opportunity to resolve issues they have with the bill, or to kill the proposal altogether.

Ed Gardner of the Liberal Gun Club said his biggest concerns center on a provision that would bar people from carrying a weapon on private property without explicit permission — a provision that Gardner and many of his peers believe could run afoul of precedent set by a 2022 Supreme Court decision. The decision ruled unconstitutional a New York law — similar to one in Massachusetts — that required applicants to prove a “special need” to get a license to carry a firearm in public.


The decision has already caused confusion over gun regulations in states like New York, which has seen a bevy of lawsuits in the last year.

“It’s like saying if you have a permit, you can’t use it, which will immediately draw court challenges,” Gardner said. “People are already lining up to hire their lawyers.”

Other opponents celebrated the legislative delay because they believe it increases the odds they can defeat the bill altogether.

National Association for Gun Rights, which issued a travel advisory for gun owners coming to Massachusetts in response to the bill, said “delaying the bill till the fall won’t dampen the pressure.”

“If he were smart, he would kill the bill altogether,” Dudley Brown, president of the group, said of Mariano in a statement.

Mariano, a Quincy Democrat who has said passing the gun law before August was a top priority, said in the statement House leadership “will continue to work on the bill until it is ready for debate this Fall.”

“You have my word that we will spend the ensuing weeks working with you to address concerns and questions you and your constituents may have about the proposed legislation,” he said.

In response, Senate majority leader Cindy Creem said Tuesday the Senate is “going to be working on our own bill,” but failed to offer a timeline.


The author of the bill, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael Day, said last week he has “no idea” when the legislation might get to the floor for a vote, given the impasse between House and Senate leaders. He also said he would be open to voting on a bill that has not had a public hearing, which Mariano, the top House leader, hasn’t discounted.

After a private meeting about the bill’s contents last week, Day told reporters: “It’s a dispute between chambers right now.”

In a statement, Senate President Karen E. Spilka said her chamber “remains committed to advancing robust gun safety legislation this session” and will “ensure the public has an opportunity to weigh in on the vital public safety matters at hand.”

It remains to be seen whether the two sides have even discussed the possibility of a compromise.

It’s been more than a month since the governor, House speaker, and Senate president engaged in their traditional leadership meeting. One that was scheduled for last week was canceled after the State House was closed because of a fire in the building, and has not been rescheduled.

Meanwhile, Moms Demand Action in Massachusetts, one of the groups backing the sweeping gun bill, said they are “frustrated by this temporary delay.”

“After recess we expect to see our leaders fulfill their promise to pass robust gun safety legislation this session,” Lynn Grilli, a volunteer with the group said.

The House wants the bill to be handled by the Judiciary Committee, citing the fallout of a 2022 Supreme Court decision expanding gun rights across the country and the committee’s history of handling bills related to court decisions. The Senate wants the bill to be heard in the Public Safety Committee, which has historically considered bills related to firearms and gun control.


Some lobbyists on Beacon Hill have privately wondered why legislative leaders don’t propose both the Judiciary and Public Safety committees hold a joint hearing on the bill. While rare, there is precedent for such collaboration.

“It’s just a question of political will. There are always ways to get things done,” said former state senator and one-time gubernatorial candidate Sonia Chang-Díaz, who served as the assistant vice chair of her chamber’s Ways and Means Committee in 2017. “This feels sort of petulant.”

The year the Jamaica Plain Democrat served on the ways and means panel, both the House and Senate’s Ways and Means Committees and the Health Care Financing Committee held a large joint hearing on changes to MassHealth, a public event that filled the State House’s 600-seat Gardner Auditorium.

The year after, the House Committee on Technology and Intergovernmental Affairs and the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security — the committee the Senate prefers to hear the gun bill — held multiple joint hearings on a cybersecurity bill.

And while it doesn’t happen often, former House Ways and Means chair Jeffrey Sánchez said, a joint hearing on a big bill could make sense.


Neither Mariano, Spilka, nor Governor Maura Healey answered whether they would support a joint hearing of multiple committees.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Healey said “she has long supported common sense gun reform.”

Karissa Hand, the spokeswoman, said “she looks forward to receiving a final bill.”

Material from State House News Service was used in this report.

Samantha J. Gross can be reached at Follow her @samanthajgross.