2A group says Boston's upcoming gun "buyback" violates state law

2A group says Boston's upcoming gun "buyback" violates state law
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

We already know that gun “buybacks” (I prefer the term “compensated confiscation” instead) are completely useless when it comes to reducing crime, accidents involving firearms, and even suicides. Despite that, they remain a popular idea for politicians looking for a soundbite solution that they can offer the public, and coming up this weekend the Boston Police Department will be hosting a compensated confiscation event of their own where those turning over firearms can receive a crisp $100 gift card, no questions asked.

The Gun Owners Action League, on the other hand, has plenty of questions about the upcoming gun turn-in event, starting with “is this even legal?” According to the 2A group, the answer is “no,” at least under current state law. As GOAL Executive Director Jim Wallace writes:

Normally what we see in the news are people lining up with various guns to exchange them for a gift card of some sort. Usually these types of events are conducted by local groups, churches and even law enforcement. Using a statement that is often incorrectly used against lawful gun owners: I can find no law that allows this to take place.

The current law establishing a “Firearm Surrender Program” was passed as part of Chapter 180 in 1998. Section 47 of that bill to be specific. The law requires the colonel of state police, in conjunction with the secretary of the executive office of public safety, to create regulations to make the surrender program function. They did so with Commonwealth of Massachusetts Regulation (CMR) 515 CMR 3.06: Firearms Surrender Program.

This CMR specifically requires anyone wishing to surrender a firearm to directly contact law enforcement in writing or by phone. Once done, a specific time and place must be agreed on: Such persons shall make arrangements with the department regarding date, time, locations, manner, and officer who shall be receiving the firearm(s). There is nothing in the law or regulation that allows for mass turn ins or just random people showing up to turn in a firearm or exchange it for a gift.

And yet, that’s exactly how Boston’s “buyback” planned for this weekend is supposed to operate.

Here’s a quick way to get some cash for holiday shopping: sell your old gun to Boston police.

The department will host a daylong gun buyback event Saturday at locations around the city. The department will give $100 to anyone who trades in a gun, no questions asked. Anyone who returns a gun can remain anonymous.

That’s not the only problem that Wallace has identified with the compensated confiscation event scheduled for Saturday, or other recent “buyback” events that have been held around the state.

Yet another major problem is that the law does establish protections from the other gun laws like licensing, transportation, storage, etc. But these protections only exist as long as the person surrendering the gun is complying with the regulations. Clearly, they are not in compliance and therefore not provided protection.

And wait, there is more. A lot of the pictures we see from these “buy back” are of old rifles and shotguns. Most are junk, but once in a while there are some nice ones. None of that matters because the law clearly limits the program to handguns. The law specifically states the law applies to “Firearms”. Under MGL Chapter 140, Section 121 (The definition section.) that word means handgun. The use of this term strictly limits any surrender, under this law and regulation, to a handgun. No other types of guns are allowed to be turned in under the program.

Municipalities should also be very careful about how they dispose of the firearms turned. It appears in paragraph 2 of the CMR that all of the firearms must be turned over to the state police. We had heard that some were being directly turned over to out of state companies for destruction.

Of course, as Wallace notes, even if Boston’s “buyback” violates state law, it’s not like the anti-gun politicians in the state like current Attorney General (and the state’s next governor) Maura Healey are going to enforce this particular provision. The Suffolk County D.A. isn’t going to hold a press conference to demand that Boston shut down this weekend’s event; if anything we’re likely to see him show up at one of the sites for a photo opportunity and a chance to be quoted by the local press praising the latest effort to “take guns off the street.” But if you’ve ever wanted to violate a Massachusetts gun law with impunity, apparently now’s your chance to make a little money while doing so… at least if you’ve got an old piece of junk (or maybe a 3D-printed gun) worth less than $100.