Tag Archives: Gun control

Statehouse Update

This week both Governor Patrick and Speaker DeLeo outlined their priorities for the upcoming year.  In his final State of the Commonwealth on Tuesday night, Governor Patrick emphasized investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure. 

The next day, Speaker DeLeo addressed the entire House of Representatives, listing an increase in minimum wage coupled with business-friendly reforms, stricter gun control laws, and a domestic violence bill as three of his top issues. 

As we focus on legislative and budget activities at the Statehouse it’s important to realize that although this legislative term may appear uneventful from the outside, it has been full of activity.  Even without high-profile debates on big-issue bills there’s a lot going on. 

Take for instance, the fact that there has been an unprecedented amount of turnover in elected officials and leadership positions.  Recently, long time House Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Representative Eugene O’Flaherty, announced his resignation to become corporation counsel to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh.  This leaves the House chairmanship open.  Meanwhile, Senator William Brownsberger has only held the Senate chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee for a matter of weeks. 

Other leadership positions currently vacant include the House second assistant majority leader and the chairmanship of the House Ethics Committee.  These positions will all be filled in the coming weeks.

Legislatively, the statehouse is poised to take action on a number of laws.  Significant bills addressing welfare reform, compounding pharmacies, and veterans services remain in conference committees.  Just last week, a group of lawmakers held a press conference in support of a juvenile justice bill comply with the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling in Diatchenko.  The bill requires that juveniles convicted of first degree murder serve 35 years before parole eligibility. 

From a budget perspective – the Governor’s budget has been released and we now turn our attention to the House and Senate as they develop their budget numbers.  The House Ways & Means Budget will come first in early April, followed by House and Senate budgets in the following months.  A final budget will be ready by July 1st

All in all, every indication points to a very eventful next few months as staffing and leadership positions are filled and legislation and budget discussions come to the fore.     

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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Discourse and Disagreement on Guns

When lawyers talk about gun and firearm safety, they often use words and phrases like “reasonableness” “narrowly crafted,” “overbroad,” “civil rights,” “minimum mandatory sentences,” “loopholes,” and “privacy issues.”  Gun and firearm safety is neither easy nor straightforward. 

In an effort to make sense of it all, the Boston public hearing on gun control and firearm safety will be held on Friday, September 13th at 10 a.m.  The Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security has reserved Gardner Auditorium at the State House for the fourth hearing on this subject.  With 58 bills on the agenda covering the entire spectrum of issues connected to gun control laws, a large crowd is expected to turn out to testify or just listen that day.  We’ll be there too. 

The BBA is still uncertain if it will support or oppose any specific proposal.  Our own internal study group has been hard at work debating various aspects of gun control and firearm safety and its work continues as the public hearing approaches.  Our only conclusions thus far are that the BBA can add value to the debate by parsing the legal points from the political positions and the legislature expects to hear from us.

While it’s anything but simple, there are some areas where reasonable people can agree.   First, Massachusetts already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country.  Even so, it is not clear whether any law could prevent a tragedy like the one at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut.  Second, Massachusetts gun laws need to be reformed because they are convoluted, complex, and difficult to understand, even for lawyers.  Massachusetts gun laws can be found in state statutes, case law, and even local ordinances and regulations.  Third, we need to figure out ways to keep guns away from criminals, juveniles, and those with mental health disqualifications.  Finally, any legislation needs to address public safety and privacy interests of individuals at the same time.       

Regardless of the legislature’s actions, personal firearm ownership and the ability to carry a concealed gun will remain a hotly debated topic.  Proponents of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms will continue to feel as strongly about their rights as their opponents do about the need for tougher gun laws.  Discourse and disagreement go hand-in-hand with gun control. 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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BBA Sets Sights on Gun Control

As predicted in Issue Spot, among the thousands of bills filed at the beginning of the legislative session in January were a slew of bills pertaining to gun laws.  Governor Patrick filed House Bill 47, An Act to strengthen and enhance firearms laws in the Commonwealth

Governor Patrick’s bill proposes to do a number of things including bringing Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Improvement Amendments Act of 2007.  While not a complete summary of the proposed bill, the legislation as filed would increase penalties, create new crimes and reduce access to high-powered rounds of ammunition.  It also includes provisions to improve the tracking of weapons sales, limit the purchase of guns to one per month and prevent machine guns from being sold to anyone under 21. Governor Patrick’s bill contains other provisions, too, that aren’t necessarily directly connected to guns.  Those provisions include amendments to the “criminal enterprise” statute to target broader illegal activity and amendments to the state wiretap statute.

Representative David Linsky has also filed a wide-ranging bill, House Bill 3253, An Act to reduce gun violence and to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth.  Representative Linsky’s bill requires gun license applicants to disclose their mental health histories, prohibit assault weapons from being stored in homes, ban high-capacity ammunition magazines, and require gun owners to purchase liability insurance.

Both of these bills –and the other bills pertaining to weapons — have been assigned to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security.  Among the more than 40 other bills that have been filed are bills covering areas such as regulations of gun storage, loopholes in the current law and support for the right to bear arms.  Public hearings have not yet been scheduled. 

Since the flurry of activity surrounding the initial filing of bills, the Legislature has opted for a more deliberative approach to the issue.  Speaker Robert Deleo recently announced his eight person task force charged with reviewing current Massachusetts gun laws.  Made up of law enforcement and experts in education and mental health, the task force will be chaired by Northeastern University Associate Dean Jack McDevitt.  Speaker DeLeo has put no time frame on the work of the legislative gun task force.  Instead, he has said he hopes the group will have an opportunity to thoroughly debate the issue and then make recommendations. 

At the BBA, President J.D. Smeallie has put together a group to monitor legislation related to gun control at the State House. The group will review and monitor these bills as they move through the legislative process and decide what, if any, role the BBA should play.  Randy Gioia, Deputy Chief Council at the Committee for Public Counsel Services and former BBA Council member will chair the study group and members are now being recruited. 

The BBA study group will also be closely watching HB47. The initial meeting of the group will take place this month.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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