A Legislative Fix For Carry License Delays?

Has a Massachusetts lawmaker actually come up with a practical way to address the growing backlog of gun license and carry applications that have come about as local police departments limit office hours or shut down their licensing departments completely? Well, kind of.

State Rep. Joseph McKenna, a Republican from Webster, Massachusetts, has introduced a bill in the state house that would provide a way for residents in the state to complete their paperwork for a gun license without having to first get fingerprinted, as is currently required.

“I think for the most part, towns are being really cooperative and working with applicants to figure out how to best proceed with an application safely and without as much face-to-face contact,” he said. “I do think there are some towns that could perhaps be using COVID as a reason to say to an applicant, we’re not comfortable with you coming into the police station.”

I think Rep. McKenna is being a little too kind here. The state’s two biggest Second Amendment organizations, the Gun Owners Action League and Commonwealth 2A, have already joined together in a federal lawsuit against several Massachusetts police departments that have either been sitting on applications or refusing to accept them for months. This is a problem right now in the state, not a hypothetical concern for the future.

McKenna’s bill is backed by the Gun Owners’ Action League, which in October filed a federal lawsuit against top police officials in Weymouth, Cambridge and Stoughton on behalf of residents of those three communities who said they’d been waiting for months to secure licenses to carry firearms.

Republican Reps. Peter Durant, William Crocker, Nicholas Boldyga, David DeCoste and Donald Berthiaume are signed on to the bill as cosponsors, as is Lawrence Democrat Rep. Marcos Devers.

Under McKenna’s bill, local police chiefs or the state superintendent of police could choose to waive the fingerprint requirement for applicants if they believe that it’s either unreasonable or unsafe to obtain them. Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the bill that would require the chiefs to accept applications even if they suspend or limit fingerprinting, so while this has the potential to be a big benefit, if anti-gun chiefs decide that they want to continue to make it impossible for residents in their town to legally acquire a firearm, they could do so without penalty or consequence.

McKenna said he is not seeking a universal waiver of the fingerprinting requirement, and that fingerprints would still be required in towns that feel comfortable conducting the procedure, “whether it’s outside, whether it’s behind a plastic screen” or with some other precaution in place.

He said he would be open to tweaking the bill’s language to establish a buffer period of a set time after which an applicant would then need to submit fingerprints.

McKenna said he’s looking at refiling the bill in the new legislative term that begins on Jan. 5.

“To be quite honest, being that it’s very late in a lame-duck session, I would not expect it to be taken up over the last four weeks we have remaining in session, but we have received some feedback from colleagues, some suggestions,” he said. “It’s certainly garnered some interest and some discussion.”

The timing of the bill isn’t exactly great either, though that’s not McKenna’s fault. As he says, the bill isn’t likely to come over the next month, even though the issue is pressing enough that it should be a top priority of lawmakers. This is Massachusetts, however, and the anti-gun Democrats in charge of the state legislature aren’t exactly in a rush to make it easier (or even possible in some cases) for residents to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

By the time McKenna’s bill gets re-introduced in January, the first COVID-19 vaccines should already be pumping through the bloodstream of some Massachusetts residents, which could also slow any progress on the bill in the new year. Why waste time with this issue when in just a couple of months most people will be vaccinated and these types of closures will hopefully be in the rearview mirror? You’ve waited this long to exercise your Second Amendment rights. What’s a few more months?

The idea of waiving the fingerprint requirement is a good one, and this bill is worth supporting. Sadly, though, I don’t know how much good it’s ultimately going to do, and I’m glad that the Gun Owners Action League and Commonwealth 2A are continuing to seek relief from the courts in addition to the state legislature.