Now that the Massachusetts House has approved the latest version of the “Lawful Citizens Imprisonment Act,” all eyes are on the state Senate, which is cooking up a gun control bill of its own.
On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, Gun Owners Action League director of public policy Mike Harris joins the show with some behind-the-scenes details of the Massachusetts House’s latest assault on the Second Amendment, including the continued opposition from police chiefs across the state.
As Harris details, there was a rumor floating around the statehouse on Wednesday afternoon that the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association had dropped its unanimous opposition to H4135 after Democrats offered an amendment (that was ultimately approved) exempting off-duty officers from the numerous prohibitions on concealed carry contained within the measure. Harris was on hand, however, when a Republican state representative reached out to MCPA executive director Mark Leahy to ask him if the association had changed its position and Leahy responded by telling him “no.”
Given the overwhelming number of Democrats who voted in favor of the bill, it’s likely that H4135 would have been approved even without that misinformation swirling around the state capitol, but as Harris says, it’s just another example of the shadiness involved in the passage of the anti-civil rights measure, which also involved some legislative sleight of hand in order to bypass committee votes and avoid further public hearings.
Harris says one of the most frustrating parts of watching what little debate took place on Wednesday was listening to House Democrats bizarrely accuse opponents of racism for daring to defend a fundamental civil right. As I told him, I’m sure that Democrats aren’t happy about being compared to segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace or the Democrats who imposed Massive Resistance to integration, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are trying to halt the exercise of a fundamental civil right, and their laundry list of non-violent, possessory “crimes” will have a disproportionate impact on minority communities across the state. Three years ago the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School found that “the Commonwealth significantly outpaced national race and ethnicity disparity rates in incarceration, imprisoning Black people at a rate 7.9 times that of White people and Latinx people at 4.9 times that of White people,” and adding a host of new, non-violent offenses is almost certain to exacerbate the existing disparity.
No matter your race, color, or creed, however, if you dare to exercise your Second Amendment rights under H4135 you’re in for a Kafkaesque experience at best, and an Orwellian nightmare at worst. Take the live-fire training mandate included in H4135, for example. As Harris explains, there are only four gun ranges in the entire state that are open to the general public, all of them in the eastern part of the state, yet under the “Lawful Citizens Imprisonment Act” every would-be handgun owner is expected to undergo and pass live-fire training and testing.
I’m not aware of any other individual right that requires training and certification before exercising it, so the mandate is already constitutionally unsound from my perspective. But even if we set aside the constitutional concerns, it’s completely impractical to demand that a resident in Pittsfield drive halfway across the state to find a range with space available for training and testing before they can even keep a gun in their home. Harris believes that this mandate alone will make it nearly impossible for many Massachusetts residents to lawfully keep and bear arms, and I agree with his assessment. Some folks will choose not to own a gun at all, but we’ll almost certainly see more people carrying without a license; not because of any criminal intent, but because their desire for self-defense outweighs their fear of arrest or prosecution.
The one bit of good news about H4135 is that it’s not law yet. Harris doesn’t expect the Senate to take up the House gun control bill on its own. Instead, he thinks senators will introduce their own bill later this year and hammer out the differences in a conference committee with the House. Whatever emerges isn’t likely to satisfy gun owners (or the police chiefs association, for that matter), but the delay at least gives gun owners the chance to contact their state senators and urge them to stand up for the civil rights of Massachusetts residents instead of following the House’s lead.
I know, I know. That’s not much comfort, especially when the stakes here are so high and the resistance to our right to keep and bear arms is so deeply ingrained in the Democrats’ ideology. Odds are the fight is going to shift to the courts before long, but while we’re still talking about a bad bill and not a terrible law, legislators still need to be reminded of the fact that they’re on the wrong side of history and the Bill of Rights.