As the long holiday weekend was wrapping up Monday evening, on the streets of Mattapan the city’s shot-spotter system picked up activity. Boston police soon arrested a 16-year-old with what their report describes as a “Polymer 80 with one empty casing in the chamber and three rounds in the magazine.”
Yes, it’s a fancy name for a ghost gun — an easy-to-assemble, available-by-mail piece that has become a too-regular sight on the streets of Boston, of Springfield, you name it.
Between 2019 and 2021, Boston police saw a 280 percent increase in the number of such guns they recovered, according to statistics released by the House Judiciary Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, which Tuesday held a joint hearing on a sweeping gun reform bill aimed in part at putting some legal guardrails around the untraceable and easy-to-acquire weapons — guardrails some in law enforcement, like Attorney General Andrea Campbell, have been begging for.
The bill, originally released early this summer and recently redrafted by its author, House Judiciary Chairman Michael Day, will require ghost guns to be registered and have a serial number added to their frames.
Day’s effort to update and broaden the state’s already well-regarded gun laws ran into a buzz saw of opposition from gun-owner groups and, at Tuesday’s hearing, from the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, which suggested the ghost gun problem could be addressed in a stand-alone bill.
But it has also gotten a good deal of pushback from usually sympathetic forces in the Senate whose opposition was less on the merits and more about protocol.
In the end, judging from the Tuesday hearing, Day’s efforts to appease gun owners were largely fruitless — although the practicalities of the legislation itself are likely much improved from its original version. The bottom line remains what it has always been: Will like-minded people in both branches be able to put aside egos long enough to get this done before this Legislature ends formal sessions?
The stakes remain high.
“We speak from experience and we speak from going to the funerals. We speak from going to the wakes” of gun victims, said Representative Bud Williams of Springfield, chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. “We’re not here to punish anyone. … But we do know there are too many illegal guns out there on the street.”
The bill also aims to update the state’s now 30-year-old assault weapons ban by “updating the specific list of firearms proscribed as well as modernizing the features or characteristics test that make some semi-automatic weapons as lethal as automatic weapons,” Day explained. The current version will include a grandfather clause.
Although as Sean Horgan, a former Marine from Somerville who served in the Iraq War, told lawmakers, “There’s no need for regular people to handle these weapons. If you want to get your hands on these weapons, there’s a recruiting office right across from Boston Common.”
One essential element of the House bill would ensure that Massachusetts remains in compliance with the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, which restricted states’ abilities to limit the public carrying of weapons. It did, however, allow restrictions in such “sensitive spaces” as schools, polling places, and government building. Day’s bill explicitly lists those, plus clarifying that an individual must have the permission of a homeowner to bring a gun into someone else’s home. Guns may also be banned at the discretion of business owners.
The bill proposes to expand the state’s red flag law, allowing health care providers, employers, and school administrators to ask a judge to suspend a person’s gun license and if approved to allow authorities to remove guns from the home.
That provision in particular was opposed by the Gun Owners Action League and by Justin Davis, the National Rifle Association’s Maine state director, who insisted it would simply bog down the courts and that the bill generally would “strip citizens of their Second Amendment rights.”
But as John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence, pointed out, this state has been regulating guns for three decades now — with results that any state would envy. Only Hawaii has a lower per capita rate of gun deaths.
But no state can stand still — not when mail-order ghost guns are becoming too commonplace on our streets and the ability of states to regulate the carrying of weapons in public places is being restricted.
“I firmly believe this bill will save lives without any inconvenience to law-abiding gun owners,” Rosenthal told the committee.
Saving lives must indeed be the goal here — that and getting this bill (or something darned close to it) to the governor’s desk with as little Beacon Hill drama as possible.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.