It’s no secret to Massachusetts gun owners that the Codfish State has some of the strictest firearm laws in the United States. And as the years have gone by, those laws have continued to tighten — despite the efforts of organizations like the NRA. So how exactly did it get to be this way?
The 1998 Massachusetts Gun Control Act
In 1998, Massachusetts passed what was hailed as the nation’s toughest gun legislation. That law sought to make the gun licensure process more comprehensive and difficult to navigate. It banned semiautomatic assault weapons, created additional licensing rules and sought severe penalties for those storing unlocked guns. Part of the legislation required all new firearm license applicants to complete a certified firearms safety or hunter education course.
The law also imposed a ban on covert guns, unreliable guns (junk guns), and certain assault weapons. Despite these restrictions, many argued the laws were ineffective in curbing gun violence. But as James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist stated, “The quality of your gun-licensing laws is only as good as those surrounding you.’’
The 2004 Revisions
In an attempt to further strengthen the 1998 laws, Massachusetts legislators enacted a series of revisions to the original act. As part of the revisions, the ban on certain assault weapons was continued; an extension was put in place for the term of FID cards and LTC from four to six years; a provision was added for a grace period of 90 days following the expiration of a license, as was an exemption of the LTC renewal fee for active law enforcement officers.
Beyond that, the 2004 revisions sought to establish a firearm license review board whose responsibility was to review applications from individuals convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses who were disqualified under current law.
The 2014 Laws
Following the devastating 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Massachusetts lawmakers came together in an effort to overhaul the state’s gun laws — which many believed were too lax, despite the state’s consideration as one of the nation’s toughest states for gun owners.
The 2014 law stiffened penalties for certain gun-based crimes, instituted real-time background checks in private gun sales and created a firearms trafficking unit within the state police. It also gave police chiefs the right to use judiciary means to deny FID cards to people whom they felt were unsuitable to own a weapon.
Despite the efforts Massachusetts lawmakers to stiffen firearm laws and curb gun violence, many argue that these laws aren’t enough on their own. Jim Wallace, head of the Massachusetts-based Gun Owners Action League and a vocal gun rights advocate, said “more laws don’t necessarily mean good laws.”
But if you look to countries like Australia, where strict gun laws have led to a massive decline in gun violence and gun-related murders,, Wallace’s assertion might not stack up. It seems to go without saying that a nation’s level of gun ownership would be proportionate to their gun-death rates. Following nationwide buyback and confiscation efforts in Australia, there hasn’t been a single mass shooting since 1996.
The problem is, in America gun ownership is very much apart of the culture. It’s one of the nation’s most coveted and controversial amendments. Australia is a small country compared to America. A nationwide buyback and confiscation program would probably not go over very well. So it’s clear that the issue goes deeper than law. Moreover, many argue that gun laws only serve to hurt those gun owners who go through the proper legal channels to obtain their firearms, while criminals will continue to find easy ways to arm themselves.
So tell us your thoughts. Do you think stricter gun laws means fewer gun-related crimes? Do you think statewide legislation is enough to curb gun violence? Or is there something deeper at play which we must first address?