BOSTON — Describing locally imposed restrictions in Massachusetts as threats to their constitutional rights, some gun owners have lined up behind a bill that would prevent municipalities from instituting their own ordinances around gun licensing.
"All we want is our rights," Lowell gun owner Arthur Perkins said during a hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security last week. "We don't want anything special. We're not asking for any other of the 32 steps that we go through to get a license to be taken away. We want the whimsy, we want the prejudice, we want the crazy beliefs to be taken away with. That is what this bill will do."
Rep. Jim Miceli filed a bill (H 2185) that would ban municipalities and counties from "passing or enforcing ordinance or regulation concerning the lawful ownership, use, possession, transfer, purchase, receipt or transportation of weapons, antique weapons, ammunition or ammunition components."
The bill "would prevent a patchwork of local confusion across the state" driven by a variety of municipal regulations, said David Robertson, an aide to Miceli who testified on the Wilmington Democrat's behalf.
"We'd be simplifying for law enforcement, we'd be simplifying for civilians," Robertson said.
Supporters of the bill referred to new firearms licensing policies in Lowell, which require all applicants to complete an approved safety course that includes a live-fire component. The policy says that applicants seeking unrestricted licenses to carry must also "submit a written supplement providing specific reasons that the applicant believes support granting the unrestricted access" and are encouraged to provide supporting documentation, including evidence of military or law enforcement service, letters of recommendation that show "good character and emotional stability," and proof of training or experience as a hunter.
In a memo describing the new policy to the city manager, Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor wrote that his department and city attorneys "conducted extensive research and had several discussions with other licensing authorities throughout the Commonwealth."
"Additionally, the LPD engaged in conversations with members of the community who had an interest in this policy," Taylor wrote. "The modifications that were made to this policy take into consideration the research, policies of other licensing authorities and the opinion of community members. In summary, the new policy conforms to the necessary requirements while also keeping in mind the safety of the public."
Lowell resident Judith Lanthier said she has had a restricted license for "a number of years" and was denied a license to carry a concealed firearm because the police said there were too many guns in the city already.
Lanthier said she wants to be able to protect herself outside her home and for the city's police department to "follow the law" and adhere to the Constitution's Second Amendment granting the right to bear arms.
"We are not criminals," she said. "We are not the problem. We follow the law."
Massachusetts residents seeking licenses to carry firearms are required to pay a $100 fee, submit fingerprints for a background check and provide proof of completion of a gun safety course if they are applying for the first time.
Municipalities are able to put in place additional requirements, like the new policy in Lowell and a written test applicants must pass in Woburn. Cambridge asks license-to-carry applicants for a utility bill or notarized letter to prove residency, two typed letters from references, a driver's license or state ID showing a city address, a birth certificate or passport and a typed letter stating the reason for seeking a license. Ashland requires two letters of reference, and Nantucket calls for three.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owner's Action League, said his group supports Miceli's bill and would like to see it amended to give the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security control over local licensing authorities so that municipalities are not creating "extra hurdles in front of lawful citizens who wish to exercise their civil rights."
"Can you imagine if the Registry of Motor Vehicles worked in such a fashion, what the uproar would be across the state?" Wallace said. "It would be a mess."
In response to Wallace's testimony, Rep. David Vieira, R-East Falmouth, suggested that the public safety committee consider bringing in municipal officials to testify on "where they believe they have the authority to make these additional requirements," which committee members could then compare to state statutes and the Constitution.
"I think it's about time we have an oversight hearing related to this local discretion," he said.
Committee co-chairman Rep. Harold Naughton tasked Vieira with compiling a list of municipal restrictions so the committee can determine how widespread the practice is before deciding "whether or not to go forward with that suggestion."