Massachusetts House leaders Thursday unveiled a revamped gun bill in which lawmakers softened several controversial provisions that had drawn particular ire from gun activists.
The House bill sands off some of the edges in key provisions and includes new restrictions on assault-style weapons and carrying guns in public places. The changes come after months of criticism and feedback from gun rights groups like Gun Owners Action League and the Sportsmen’s Association, as well as input from gun safety activists and advocates.
“I think the chairman and his committee responded to the criticisms they’ve heard, tempered some of their perceptions, and I think we’ve arrived at a place which makes the commonwealth safer,” House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano said Thursday.
The latest legislation is “significantly different” than the version he sought to advance over the summer, Mariano told reporters.
The new version would still require serialization of firearm parts, update the state’s assault weapons ban, and limit the ability to carry guns in certain spaces, but each of those provisions has been tweaked from the original bill, Joint Judiciary Committee Chair Michael S. Day said.
For example, the original bill banned certain assault-style weapons, drawing criticism from legal gun owners who felt that such a move would constitute “a government taking” of their lawfully owned property. The revised bill creates a legacy or “grandfather clause” for people who legally owned such weapons before the law went into effect.
The original bill also banned people from carrying guns into public places without “explicit permission.” The revised bill leaves banning guns to the discretion of individual businesses, while keeping a ban in place for “sensitive spaces” like schools, government buildings, and polling places. The bill also makes clear that an individual must receive permission before bringing a gun into someone’s home.
Another major change involves how guns are serialized and registered in order to prevent the creation of unregistered “ghost guns.” The original bill required all gun barrels and receivers be serialized. But after hearing concerns from gun owners about “the efficacy and the practicality” of serializing the barrel of a long gun or a handgun, lawmakers revised the bill to require documentation on the gun’s frame instead, which lawmakers say is consistent with the federal requirements on firearms produced by licensed manufacturers.
Mariano said that in the interest of moving “as quickly as possible,” the bill will be pushed through the chamber’s powerful Committee on Ways and Means instead of being heard in an agreed-upon joint committee made up of House and Senate members.
“Because we’ve invested so much time in this bill . . . we want to make sure that we get this out in a timely fashion,” Mariano said.
The committee will hold a public hearing on the bill Tuesday morning with the goal of bringing it to the House floor for a full vote “in the next couple weeks,” he added.
Mariano originally said he wanted the bill to win House approval during the summer, but after a series of private meetings with representatives, he pushed the timeline back to the fall. Now, he said he isn’t sure there will be a consensus before the winter holidays.
The original bill was filed in June by Day, sparking loud pushback from gun groups and a protest from Senate Democrats, who fought with the House over which legislative committee should hold a public hearing on it.
The House wanted the bill to be handled by the Judiciary Committee, citing the fallout from 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 wanted the bill to be heard in the Public Safety Committee, which has historically considered bills related to firearms and gun control.
The Senate has yet to file its own version of the bill, and an aide to Majority Leader Cindy Creem said this week it’s unclear when a bill would be drafted.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Senate President Karen E. Spilka said the Senate “will review this new House bill as well as the many other gun safety bills filed in the Senate and the House this session,” and that she aims to get a bill onto Governor Maura Healey’s desk this legislative session, which ends Jan. 7, 2025 (though the last day of formal session is July 31, 2024).
Advocates were still working Thursday to understand the lengthy House bill and prepare testimony to present at Tuesday’s hearing.
Jim Wallace, executive director of gun rights group GOAL, said even with the changes, the bill is still “a train wreck.”
“What they did was make a toxic bill a little less toxic,” said Wallace, who takes issue with a number of parts of the proposed legislation, including the list of weapons that would be prohibited under the expanded ban on assault-style weapons. “They put a little polish on something, that’s all.”
Ruth Zakarin, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, was at the State House Thursday wearing her group’s signature orange T-shirt with the group’s logo. She said she was pleased that the Coalition’s top priorities — addressing the prevalence of ghost guns and uplifting the importance of collecting trace data from guns in the aftermath of a shooting.
“For us, there’s a lot of urgency,” Zakarin said. “We’re seeing the violence continue to happen. We know that communities are being traumatized by gun violence.”