Black Gun Owners Speaking Out Ahead of Massachusetts Gun Bill Vote

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

A conference committee comprised of a handful of House and Senate members has been meeting behind closed doors in Boston to craft a compromise gun control bill after the two chambers passed wildly different measures over the past few months. The House version, billed by the Gun Owners Action League as the "Lawful Citizens Imprisonment Act", features a number of new "gun-free zones" as well as a host of additional mandates for those applying for their license to carry, including a live-fire requirement that GOAL believes will be nearly impossible for many applicants to comply with given the scarcity of publicly-accessible ranges in the state. 

The Senate bill is more modest in scope, but still contains numerous provisions that GOAL and other Second Amendment groups have deemed completely unacceptable. Interestingly, several Democrats who represent the Boston area say they've been getting grilled about the bill from their constituents, who say it's time the state make it easier for them to exercise their 2A rights.

Bostonians, who have long faced tough hurdles to secure gun licenses compared to suburban peers, are pressing state lawmakers to ease those restrictions as new gun reform legislation advances on Beacon Hill this season.

And, increasingly, the calls on behalf of expanding Second Amendment rights are coming from men and women of color who live in Dorchester and Mattapan.

State Rep. Russell Holmes, who represents parts of both neighborhoods, says he is paying attention to their calls.

“It’s a legal right they are asking for and I need to open my eyes to the fact that folks in my community feel their Second Amendment rights are being infringed upon,” said Holmes, who said he’s approached everywhere – even at church – about expanding gun rights.

His colleague in the Fifth Suffolk district, Rep. Chris Worrell, said he’s been fielding similar calls from constituents in other parts of Dorchester and Roxbury that he represents.

“Am I a gun person? No,” said Worrell. “I’m not a gun guy and don’t own a gun but there are a lot of people here in the neighborhood who want to exercise their Second Amendment rights and obtain a license and have not been able to.”

“People who are responsible are not committing the acts of gun violence we see here. People do want it legally,” he admits.

Kudos to Holmes and Worrell for at least admitting that many of their constituents want access to their Second Amendment rights but have been denied thanks to the subjective gun laws in the state. While some licensing authorities in Massachusetts accept that we the people have a fundamental right to keep and bear arms, in Boston (or more specifically, Suffolk County) has long been seen as hostile to the Second Amendment, and obtaining a Class A license to carry hasn't been easy for the average resident. Since the Bruen decision came down almost two years ago, however, there's been a surge in interest in carrying from folks who see that right as now within reach. 

Brian Dalton, who owns the New England Firearms Academy in Woburn, trains people who are seeking permits in gun safety. He says he’s seen a surge in Boston residents— mainly Black and brown people—seeking his services.

“I would say a good 50 percent coming to me now are females and people of color,” said Dalton, a former law enforcement officer. “We require live-fire sessions first before training if they don’t have firearm experience and I’d say about 80 percent are people of color with no experience with firearms, except maybe if they were in the military.”

Many of his clients, Dalton says, are frustrated that legal gun ownership is so skewed to residents of suburban communities.

“For a long time, Boston wasn’t open at all for Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester people owning firearms and meanwhile their streets were lit up every night,” he said. “What people are saying is ‘why can’t we learn to get the license to carry a firearm?’... Firearm ownership is a right — and not a privilege like driving.”

The backlash to the gun control bill has already caused at least one lawmaker to start to view this issue differently, though it remains to be seen whether it will actually impact his vote. 

“It’s an unusual request for me,” Holmes admits. “I’m saying, ‘When did this happen in the Black community because I have gun violence all up and down Blue Hill Avenue in my district.’ But these are friends and regular, real people, not crazy gun enthusiasts but real people that I know who say this is something they want to do…I’m not happy about it but I have to open my eyes to it.”

I hate to break it to Holmes, but those "crazy gun enthusiasts" he complains about are regular, real people, too. It's lazy for lawmakers like Homes to stereotype gun owners as nutty about their right to keep and bear arms, as if we're simply fighting for words on a piece of paper. The truth is that the modern 2A movement is all about advancing a fundamental civil right, and we want to make sure that we the people can exercise that right no matter if we live in downtown Boston or the rural Berkshires. 

Holmes may not be thrilled that voters in his district are speaking up about the repeated infringements on their Second Amendment rights, but the question now is what is he going to do about it? Will he go along with whatever emerges from the conference committee, even if it places untenable burdens on his constituents, or will he buck his party's leadership and stand up for the rights of those constituents who've approached him "everwhere" to personally lobby against the bill? 

I'm not holding my breath that Holmes will have a change of heart once the compromise language is unveiled. After all, he voted in favor of the original House bill, including its provisions broadening the subjective standards that licensing authorities can use to deny applications. But if Holmes is getting hammered by his constituents over that vote, maybe we will see him reverse course and oppose the conference committee's legislation. If so, I'll give the lion's share of credit to those residents who've been reminding him that the Second Amendment is for everyone... and cracking down on those "crazy gun enthusiasts" will inevitably harm the "regular, real people" he calls friends as well.