For several decades, it has been illegal for individuals to sell or possess assault weapons in Massachusetts.
At the same time, the state has an even longer history as the home of Springfield-based Smith & Wesson, one of the largest gunmakers in the country, among roughly two dozen other firearm manufacturers. And as such, critics say that Massachusetts bears some responsibility for the epidemic of gun deaths in the United States.
“These weapons are made in your state, but they can’t be sold in your state,” Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was killed in the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, said during a virtual press conference Tuesday. “So in effect, Massachusetts is exporting bloodshed to the rest of the country.”
Phillips joined a group of Democratic state lawmakers in Massachusetts to unveil a bill that they say would put an end to that practice.
Sponsored by Cambridge Rep. Marjorie Decker, Lawrence Rep. Frank Moran, and Newton Sen. Cynthia Creem, the legislation would ban manufacturing of “any assault weapon or large capacity feeding device” in Massachusetts, unless it’s for the purpose of selling to law enforcement or military agencies.
Decker, who referenced research showing that assault weapons account for 85 percent of mass shooting deaths, argued that the bill would afford residents in other states the same protection that are in Massachusetts, in wake of the recent spate of deadly rampages across the country. Gun control advocates — including Republican Gov. Charlie Baker — have credited the strict gun laws in Massachusetts for the state’s lowest-in-the-country firearm death rate.
“We have empirical data, both here in Massachusetts and across the nation, that shows us a clear path to stopping the killing of children, the slaughtering of people, by reducing access to assault weapons of civilians and private citizens,” Decker said.
However, the path ahead for the actual bill is a bit less clear.
Massachusetts House Speaker Ron Mariano didn’t exactly shoot down they idea. But, while he said there was “no doubt that we must continue to work to reduce gun violence,” the Quincy Democrat suggested federal action would be necessary to comprehensively address the issue (the new bill would, of course, still allow assault weapons to be manufactured in other states).
“At the end of the day, each state that wants to reduce gun violence will do their part, but I believe that in order to put an end to mass shootings, all states have to operate under a national standard,” Mariano said in a statement. “I’m encouraged that we now have a President that has proposed steps toward ending gun violence, and urge Congress to follow suit.”
Some gun rights advocates also said the bill could face legal challenges, if passed, since the Constitution places limitations on the ability of state governments to regulate interstate commerce. However, three other states — California, New Jersey, and New York — already have laws against manufacturing as part of their larger assault weapon bans.
Additionally, there could be economic ramifications; according to The Boston Globe, the National Shooting Sports Foundation says the firearms industry supported roughly 7,800 jobs in Massachusetts last year and generated $4.6 million in state and federal tax revenue.
John Rosenthal, the cofounder of advocacy group Stop Handgun Violence, downplayed the impact on jobs and also noted that 90 percent of all gun deaths are due to handguns.
“This is not an effort to ban handguns or anything other than military-style weapons that aren’t allowed to be sold in this state,” Rosenthal said.
Supporters also noted that the bill had the backing of Springfield Rep. Bud Williams, whose district includes Smith & Wesson’s headquarters.
“Let’s get it done,” Williams said Tuesday.
As WBUR reported last week, Smith & Wesson sold more than 600,000 guns and accessories during the first three months of 2021, totally $257.6 million in sales, which was more than double what the company made during the same quarter in 2020. It’s unclear how many of those were assault weapons.
According to Rosenthal, federal data shows that Massachusetts gunmakers produced more firearms than any other state in 2019.
Rosenthal later added that he didn’t know how many of the 2,204 employees at Smith & Wesson would be affected if Massachusetts banned assault weapon manufacturing, but contended it would be a “relatively small number.”
“I would also venture to guess that there’s a whole lot of people at Smith & Wesson that would like to not have blood of their hands making military-style weapons designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible and outgun police officers,” Rosenthal said.
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.