Mass. bill aims to follow SCOTUS' gun ruling in New York
It would prohibit a person from receiving a license to carry a firearm if there's reliable or credible risk of public safety
By Chris Van Buskirk
BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate passed legislation Saturday afternoon that seeks to respond to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that struck down a New York gun-control law that required proper cause to have a license to carry a concealed handgun outside.
The federal decision was expected to have legal ramifications for Massachusetts’ “good reason” provision of the license-to-carry statute. After a brief debate, senators voted 39-1 to pass a bill that would, among other things, remove a firearm licensing authority’s and the Massachusetts State Police’s discretion in issuing, renewing or restricting licenses to carry firearms.
Democratic Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues said the bill makes “minor changes to ensure our gun licensing laws comply with that decision while preserving many of the protections that are currently in place.”
“We’ve worked very, very closely with both the [ Massachusetts] Attorney General’s Office and the governor’s office through his Executive Office of Public Safety and Security to get this language correct,” Rodrigues said during introductory remarks.
The legislation prohibits a person who is currently subject to a permanent or temporary harassment prevention order from obtaining a license to carry firearms and requires a licensing authority to deny an application or renewal for a license to carry “if the applicant is determined to be unsuitable based on reliable, articulable and credible information that the applicant or licensee may create a risk to public safety,” according to a Senate summary of the bill.
The response to the Supreme Court decision was stuffed into a $164 million borrowing bill intended to improve and modernize information technology infrastructure at the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, Appeals Court, Trail Court and departments of the Trial Court.
The Senate’s gun licensing language also differentiated from a version the House passed last week. The House sought to cut the duration of a license to carry from six to three years, a provision the Senate did not write into its version.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said if the changes are not enacted, then Massachusetts’ entire license law “would be subject to challenge, which could have a very significant effect on the law, in the courts both of the commonwealth and our federal courts.”
Tarr said the section of the bill allowing for the denial of a license to carry a firearm if there is “reliable, articulable, and credible information” that the applicant may be a risk to public safety replaces a section that Tarr said says “existing factors that suggest if issued a license, the applicant or licensee may create a risk to public safety.”
“It may seem like a subtle change, but it’s a very important change,” Tarr said. “And it’s an important change to ensure that if a license is denied, there has to be information that is reliable, articulable and credible. And so that’s a very significant set of factors.”
Before the Senate voted to pass the bill and send it back to the House, which will have to contend with the language variation, Tarr attempted to push through an amendment that would have reformed so-called dangerousness hearings in Massachusetts, a nod to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s signature legislation that has prompted a public feud between Democrats in the Legislature and the governor.
Tarr said each one of his six amendments dealt with a “particular aspect of the problems that exist with regard to our judicial system related to dangerousness.”
“There is an issue that needs to be discussed openly and forthrightly on the floor of the Senate,” Tarr said. “And that is the issue that relates to dangerousness and the untenable dysfunction of our current system with regard to hearings for dangerousness and the protection of the public by the judiciary through the mechanism of dangerousness hearings.”
After a short speech, Tarr withdrew his amendments, saying there “will be other opportunities for that discussion.”
“But I do so Madam President, with the understanding and to put everyone on notice, that we will have a discussion on this subject,” Tarr said. “We have an opportunity and we have an obligation to address it.”
Earlier Saturday morning, the House voted 31-122 to reject Gov. Charlie Baker’s attempt to tie a narrow version of his so-called dangerousness bill to a proposal allowing for free inmate phone calls.
Materials from the State House News Service were used in this report.