BOSTON (SHNS) – As around 250 advocates swarmed the State House Wednesday calling on lawmakers to pass bills to crack down on gun violence, Senate President Karen Spilka expressed hope that her chamber could eventually vote on a reform package.
Spilka, without providing a concrete timeline, told reporters, “we’ll see, but we’re hoping,” when pressed if such a vote on a to-be-unveiled bill could happen this fall, when the House may take up a gun bill. In a recent “On the Record” interview, Spilka offered a forecast of “yeah this fall, I believe this session.”
Based on private meetings with Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem, Spilka said that her colleagues are focused on incorporating provisions surrounding ghost guns, data collection, and Glock triggers that she said “can speed up the rate that bullets come out of the gun” into a bill that is being drafted.
“Sen. Creem is working hard — she’s meeting with all of the senators at least once, and she is meeting with all the stakeholders, advocates,” Spilka, joined by Senate Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues, told reporters. “And we’ll be then meeting with the senators again, which is the way the Senate works to make sure that we have a consensus on a bill and then bring it forward.”
Like the Senate, House Democrats have been working behind the scenes on gun law reforms. Rep. Michael Day filed an omnibus bill in June that has been bogged down since in a procedural dispute with the Senate. Gun owners also sharply criticized Day’s bill.
Day’s proposal (HD 4420) standardizes firearm training, overhauls licensing rules and blocks people from carrying guns in schools, polling places, government buildings and private property without the owner’s consent.
It also requires parts of ghost guns to be serialized and registered, in a bid to tamp down on the surge of untraceable weapons in Boston and around the commonwealth. Attorney General Andrea Campbell has urged top lawmakers to focus on ghost guns, whose parts can be bought online or manufactured with a 3D printer, that have become increasingly popular since 2019.
Day’s bill drew praise from activists Wednesday representing Massachusetts chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, Giffords, Brady, Stop Hand Handgun Violence and the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence (MACOPGV).
The Gun Owners Action League (GOAL), which has called Day’s bill a “full-scale attack on the Second Amendment in the Commonwealth,” is holding its own State House event and Boston Common rally in two weeks.
While Democrats in both branches are eyeing votes this fall on gun-related legislation, they have given no indication of whey they plan to put gun bills up for public hearings where members of the general public can let them know what they want, and don’t want. In the “On the Record” interview, Spilka noted the importance of holding public hearings for bills, which she said allows lawmakers to seek feedback from residents and stakeholders before a vote.
A spokesperson for Speaker Ron Mariano didn’t offer a clearer timeline Wednesday for when the House could debate gun reform this fall, as broadly promised by the Quincy Democrat when he paused closed-door deliberations this summer.
“In the wake of a conservative Supreme Court decision that threatened the safety of Massachusetts residents, the House is focused on ensuring that the Commonwealth has the safest and most effective gun laws in the entire country, and will continue to work on this legislation, with the ultimate goal of preserving the Commonwealth’s status as a national leader in the effort to prevent gun violence,” Mariano said in a statement, as he referenced the Bruen ruling last June that struck down New York’s concealed carry law.
Day or Creem were not available. In a statement, Day said he’s continued speaking with representatives and constituents about gun safety legislation.
“Since July 1st, we have seen 183 mass shootings in this country. In Massachusetts, there have been approximately 73 separate reported incidents of shootings, resulting in at least 33 deaths and 71 injuries,” Day said. “The House remains committed to moving legislation forward that will modernize our firearm laws.”
Mark Scott, president of MACOPGV’s board, said the coalition is monitoring Creem’s gun reform work, much as it tracked Day’s process of producing the omnibus bill following a listening tour. Advocates flooded Beacon Hill Wednesday to help usher the process along, Scott signaled to the News Service.
“It’s a lot of working it out, but let’s get it done,” said Scott, who urged the Legislature to finalize a comprehensive gun reform bill by the end of the two-year session. Scott said the final legislation should address Extreme Risk Protection Orders, also known as red flag laws, and ensure people with mental health concerns — including those at risk of suicide — cannot access guns.
Scott lamented that communities such as Boston, Springfield, New Bedford and Fall River are disproportionately reeling from gun violence, as community organizations working to stem the tide need financial help and stronger laws to make a coordinated impact.
“Otherwise what we’re doing is playing Whack-A-Mole with violence — let it pop up, we get upset, we whack it,” Scott said. “If we do nothing but play Whack-A-Mole with violence, violence is going to win, and the prevention of Whack-A-Mole has got to be up to the Legislature.”
GOAL supports nearly 20 gun bills filed this session, according to its website, including proposals to clamp down on illegal firearm trafficking; establish a Massachusetts Commission on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Management, which would study harms caused by guns, among other topics; and protect domestic violence victims, such as from dangerous weapons.
Jim Wallace, GOAL’s executive director, said the organization worked with Rep. Michael Soter on a bill last session aimed at regulating ghost guns by leveling hefty prison time on “prohibited” individuals — such as those convicted of a felony — for illegally manufacturing guns, as well as transporting or possessing them. The Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security reported the bill favorably, but no further action was taken on it.
To Wallace’s dismay, that prior bill wasn’t incorporated into Day’s 141-page proposal.
“I was taken aback when Chairman Day chose not to use that language and instead published language that would only affect us and not the criminals,” Wallace said Wednesday. “There’s nothing in this bill about fighting crime. That’s why I’m extraordinarily confused why the Moms (Demand Action) and other groups are supporting it thinking it’s fighting crimes, and it makes me wonder: ‘Did they actually read the bill? Do they know what the bill does?'”
The serialization and registration requirements for various gun parts in Day’s bill would “create a logistical nightmare” for the state, Wallace said, particularly as licensed owners work on their guns, such as replacing grips.
Preventing the spread of ghost guns was a recommended talking point for activists at the state Capitol, according to materials shared with the News Service, which described them as the preferred weapon for extremists and people who have committed crimes. The ghost guns do not require background checks and are not traceable, the materials stated.
Helaine Razovsky, a volunteer with the MACOPGV, said she was slated to speak with Sen. William Brownsberger about the importance of strengthening and modernizing Massachusetts’ gun safety law in the aftermath of the Bruen decision. Day’s bill calls for a legislative commission to “study and investigate emerging firearm technology,” though Razovsky said that a commission would need clearer goals rather than merely studying ghost guns and other devices.
“We are concerned,” Razovsky, of Brighton, said of the Legislature’s pace on gun legislation this session. “We would like them to move as quickly as possible and not put off discussion, put off reconciliation between the different parts of the Legislature.”