Gene Chague: Taking critical look at gun violence legislation
Well, the much awaited anti-gun violence bill was finally passed by our legislators and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick.
According to Jim Wallace, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) two interesting things happened during the deliberations. First, it became clear that the Massachusetts Legislature was going to take a much more deliberate approach than our neighboring states did. Second, there was a "tectonic" shift in terms of what happened when state legislators began discussing further restrictions of the gun owner’s rights. GOAL members (15,000 strong) sent out a loud and clear message and they were heard.
Positive changes according to GOAL:
n Critical training language correction for juniors allowing trainers to provide firearms to junior shooters and hunters with parental consent. Juniors are now able to apply for their FID card a year early (age 14) and receive their card at 15, thus allowing them to hunt in their first eligible year.
n Persons over 18 years old will no longer need an FID card to purchase pepper spray. Those 15-17 years old can possess it but must have an FID card.
n Police chiefs must first petition the court to deny someone an FID card. They now have to put denials in writing. Now, gun owners can appeal their LTC restrictions in District Court, which places the burden of proof on the police chief to defend the denial or restriction in District Court and in writing. The language also includes time limits. If there is no decision rendered in the prescribed amount of time, the license will be issued.
n The term "prohibited person" is now being used for both licenses -- instead of "unsuitable." This change in the language provides a much needed change in framework around who is prohibited.
n A 90-day license renewal grace period was fixed. Gun owners will now receive a receipt upon renewal, which makes the license valid until the new license is received.
n Language was added protecting people who voluntarily seek mental health help from being listed as a "prohibited person." This also gives protection to people who voluntarily seek help for drug and alcohol use.
n There will be exemptions for the sale of Olympic-style handguns. They were previously not allowed to be sold in the commonwealth.
n Curios and relic (C&R) collectors can now purchase handguns and firearms that may not comply with the approved firearms roster. They can now legally transfer them to licensed C&R dealers.
n Created an online portal for face-to-face transfers, preserving private sales.
n Removed the Class B License to Carry and made all one LTC license.
n Language was added providing protection of property for firearms owners. Now, if your firearms get confiscated, the licensing authority shall at that time inform you in writing of your ability to transfer them to an independent licensed individual. (Apparently there were cases where confiscated firearms disappeared and were not returned to the rightful owners, even though they were cleared of charges).
n Language was added so that a person who, in good faith, reports lost or stolen firearms will have protection, so that the licensing authority cannot make them considered a prohibited person.
n The time period active duty military members have to become licensed, or renew their license, has been extended from 90 to 180 days. Also, veterans will now be exempted from having to take the mandatory gun safety training classes.
According to Wallace, here is what was stopped in H.4376, thanks in part because of gun owners’ and GOAL’s efforts:
n The original bill would have criminalized private sales of firearms between licensed individuals. It was struck and private sales remain legal.
n It would have applied a "suitability" clause to the issuance of FID cards. This was modified so that the licensing authority now has to prove in court that the applicant is unsuitable.
n It would have made the FID applicant list a "reason" for applying.
n It would have given the licensing authority the ability to place restrictions on FID cards.
n It had onerous language regarding confiscated/seized firearms.
n It would have penalized licensees for not renewing early.
n It would have had a restrictive amendment including a one-gun-a-month rule.
According to GOAL, the things that they did not like with the legislation are as follows:
n State police chiefs now have more power over license applicants via applying "suitability" to FID cards.
n Increased penalties for violating storage laws.
n Increased penalties for being in possession of a firearm on school grounds.
GOAL took a neutral position with NICS compliance, (GOAL worked hard to ensure that the language met Fed standards), "safe and supportive schools" (NRA’s idea of adding armed police to schools) and increased fines for criminal acts involving firearms.
Wallace noted that the scope of the bill is very large and in order to get an accurate assessment one needs to step back and examine it as a whole, what was gained, what was lost and what was stopped.
"We certainly did not receive letters forcing us to register our rifles and turn in our magazines. We didn’t wind up with laws mirroring Vermont or Montana but rather made strides in the right direction."
Kudos go to Jim Wallace for lobbying so hard for reasonable legislation. It is doubtful that he got much sleep during the deliberation period. Kudos to our local legislators, too, for supporting this reasonable legislation. And kudos especially to the gun owners who flooded legislator’s emails, tied up phone lines, filled up mail boxes and ran fax machines out of paper. You were heard and you made a difference.
Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone/fax: (413) 637-1818
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.