After Promising Transparency, Massachusetts Dems Move Behind Closed Doors to Craft Gun Control Bill

AP Photo/Philip Marcelo

The Gun Owners Action League has a detailed history of the games that Massachusetts Democrats have played while crafting a sweeping gun control bill over the past several months. Unfortunately, that list is due for an update after the lastest shenanigans in Boston. 


Just last week the conference committee trying to hammer out an agreement between the House and Senate's competing gun bills hinted that they'd be keeping their discussions open to the public instead of meeting behind closed doors as they normally do. GOAL executive director Jim Wallace was pleasantly surprised by the decision to keep last week's meeting open, and was hopeful that would be the case throughout the negotiations. 

“Absolutely, the cleaner the better. And it would actually show, maybe, that they have to be answerable to the general public,” Wallace said, adding that “it would actually be interesting to see some deliberation and maybe some debate.”

Sorry, Jim. After further consideration, the Democrats decided on Wednesday they'd rather cut their deal in the shadows after all.

As soon as lawmakers settled in for their second session — and before any bargaining could begin — state Rep. Carlos González made a motion to move the talks out of the prying eyes of the public and press.

State Sen. Joan Lovely seconded it, citing threats she and her daughter received from a man in her district several years ago that included references to “high-powered firearms.” The man was later arrested, has since been released and lives in another state, Lovely said. But the incidents prompted the Salem Democrat to get a license to carry, so she could “purchase a firearm to protect my family” if needed.

Conferees have also received “hundreds of emails from folks who are opposed” to tightening the state’s gun laws, some of which have “pretty highly charged language,” Lovely said.

“I’m very much in favor of conducting this conference committee in public,” Lovely said. But, she added, “I just think it’s safer” to move the talks behind closed doors.

Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Stone Creem offered another reason to shroud the committee’s talks in secrecy — the potential that something lawmakers would say on the thorny topic could be used in a lawsuit down the line.


Do these lawmakers really think that shutting the public out of their deliberations is going to lead to less consternation and concern from gun owners? At some point they're going to emerge with a bill in hand, and I guarantee that if it looks anything like either the House or Senate bill there'll be more "highly charged language" from citizens who are opposed to having their right to keep and bear arms turned into a privilege to be doled out by the state. 

If Lovely was truly threatened by a constituent "several years ago" that's absolutely deplorable and I'm glad that an arrest was made. But she can't have it both ways; declaring that she"s "very much in favor" of holding an open hearing while voting to move the deliberations away from the public's view. 

I suspect that Creem's objection to an open discussion is the real reason why the Democrats on the conference committee decided to do their work behind closed doors; she's afraid that one or more members of her caucus would say something that could be used against them when their gun bill is inevitably challenged in court.  

The two Republicans appointed to serve on the conference committee were the lone votes against moving the deliberations to executive session, and they along with the state GOP called out Democrats for their decision. 

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr opposed the motion to close the meeting, saying that it would hurt public trust.

The Gloucester Republican said he was sorry to hear what Lovely and her daughter went through, calling it “clearly inappropriate” but said it would promote public goodwill for people to be able to witness the negotiations.

“We will not be coerced, we will conduct our business and we will move forward, and we will condemn in the strongest possible terms anyone who threatens the safety of any legislator. And I will point out that our names, our identities, our addresses are already known. Closing the conference committee will not change that,” Tarr said. “My fear is that by closing we may as well stoke, in the presence of a vacuum relative to public awareness of what we’re doing, we may stoke a kind of distrust that can lead to some of the actions that have been described.”


Republican Rep. Joseph McKenna echoed Tarr, saying that cloaking the negotiations in shadow would further misinformation about the bill.

“By closing this conference, we are allowing the opponents of this measure to make their own narrative about what is happening behind closed doors,” he said.


Amy Carnevale, chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party released a statement about closing off the talks.

“The negotiations on pending gun legislation ought to be done in the public eye, not in back rooms,” she said. “Aside from the troubling contents of this legislation, it is appalling that the Democratic Supermajority is seeking to shield these important discussions from the public. When debating legislation with considerable impact on the law-abiding sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts of the Commonwealth, it is imperative that we, the voters, have an idea of how our Senators and Representatives build such controversial and impactful legislation.”


The Democrats pushing for more restrictions on legal gun owners have repeatedly stymied the public from participating in the process, including using parliamentary tricks to avoid having to hold a hearing on the Senate bill that would have allowed gun owners to offer their public testimony in opposition. I can't say I'm surprised by the decision to pull the curtains and keep their discussions away from the sunlight. It's par for the course from the anti-gunners on Beacon Hill. But it's also another demonstration of the contemptuous attitude they hold toward the hundreds of thousands of gun owners across the state; sit still, shut up, and do what you're told... no questions asked or statements given. 

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