Mass. gun laws ‘help save lives.’ Sen. Ed Markey is, again, asking for the rest of the U.S. to follow suit.

"Massachusetts has proven the NRA's bogus talking points wrong again and again."

Chip Somodevilla
US Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts Chip Somodevilla/Pool via AP

A series of recent mass shootings across the United States, including when a gunman opened fire in a Texas elementary school late last month, have re-ignited debate in Washington over the nation’s gun laws and have many Americans asking: What can be done?

For some, the answer lies in Massachusetts.

“If every state had the same gun laws in Massachusetts we could cut gun deaths in half. Within five years,” David Hogg, the ardent gun reform advocate, Harvard student, and survivor of the 2018 shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school that left 17 people dead, wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Hogg, to underscore his point, then linked to a Boston Globe opinion piece by the newspaper’s Editorial Board, published a month after the tragedy at Hogg’s alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.


“Massachusetts had the lowest gun death rate in the country in 2016: About 3.5 per 100,000,” the board wrote. “People killed by guns in Massachusetts represent a small fraction of those killed nationally.”

The Bay State’s unique standing and example ripe for replication in other states could offer a path forward for reducing deaths caused by gun violence, some lawmakers say.

In fact, several state legislators are already putting the wheels in motion to open their doors to their nationwide counterparts.

On Monday, lawmakers were drafting an open letter to other state legislatures to consider taking a look at the commonwealth’s laws, which are a mix of bans, background check requirements, and licensing restrictions, the Globe reports.

The draft letter, circulated by Cambridge Democratic state Rep. Marjorie Decker, said Massachusetts “broke the mold by refusing to kowtow to national pundits on either side of the aisle,” and offered the state House as a resource for others to learn from.

In Washington, Sen. Ed Markey has now, for several years, sought a more direct approach for replication of his home state’s gun laws across the country.

First pushed in 2018 and filed in 2019 with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and then-Congressman Joe Kennedy III, the Making America Safe and Secure, or MASS, Act would incentivize states to adopt licensing standards similar to those in Massachusetts.


“David [Hogg] is absolutely right,” Markey wrote in a tweet of his own on Monday. “Massachusetts has proven the NRA’s bogus talking points wrong again and again Our strong gun laws—including strict licensing standards, a red flag law, and an assault weapons ban—help save lives. The rest of the country needs to follow suit.”

Markey described the MASS Act’s incentive as “a critical tool to help keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them and prevent firearm deaths.”

Specifically, the bill would authorize Department of Justice grant funding to encourage states to keep “comprehensive licensing standards” for gun owners and dealers, including a provision that all gun owners have licenses for the entirety of their firearms ownership, according to Markey’s office.

Among several other principles for grants to be awarded, first-time license owners could also be required to complete safety training and background checks, and states may set standards for select individuals to be barred from obtaining licenses. Local law enforcement could serve as the licensing authority, which is how the law works in Massachusetts.

“Massachusetts gun laws have been proven to work,” Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said Monday.


“I’ve talked to governors in other states and basically have said to them that they really ought to take a look at Massachusetts laws and make some decisions of their own,” Baker said. “I think it’s undeniable that the laws we have here have worked pretty well.”

In a tweet Tuesday, Baker doubled down on that view, and called the recent spate of mass shootings “unacceptable.”

“And they should be unacceptable to Washington D.C., too,” Baker wrote. “Leaders in D.C. should look to Massachusetts as a nation-leading example to see that bipartisan gun reform is not only possible – it works.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hawaii was the only state with a lower death rate due to firearms than the commonwealth in 2020. Massachusetts had the lowest rate in 2019, 2016, and 2015.

So what exactly are the gun laws here?

Perhaps foremost, Massachusetts picked up an assault weapons ban in 1998 and later opted to keep it when the federal ban expired in 2004, according to the Globe. That law also restricts ammunition magazines to 10 rounds and mandates new applicants seeking a six-year gun license to take a gun safety class.

License seekers must undergo a background check for either a Firearm Identification Card — needed to legally possess certain rifles and shotguns — or a license to carry, also known as a Class A license, the newspaper reports.

Class A licenses are issued by local police chiefs, who can deny applicants who law enforcement believes should not be in possession of a firearm based on factors of not only criminal records but police calls to their residences, such as for domestic violence incidents.


The vast majority of licenses in Massachusetts are Class A: About 497,230 of the approximately 529,000 active firearm licenses in the state were of that designation as of April 1, according to the Globe.

Under a 2014 law, police chiefs can additionally suspend, deny, or revoke licenses for rifles and shotguns by filing a court petition. The statute also required the state to join a nationwide database for criminal and mental health background checks and to create an online platform for the checks needed for private gun transfers, the newspaper reports.

Through the state’s “red flag” law, judges may confiscate firearms from people considered a risk to themselves or those around them, although it has been seldom used: There have been only 48 petitions filed since the law passed in 2018, according to the Globe.

Still, even with Massachusetts’ pioneering laws, some see room for improvement.

Age restrictions for licensure, for example, is “foggy,” Jack McDevitt, director of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University, told the Globe.

Individuals who are 14 years old or older can apply for a FID with consent from a parent or guardian, despite 18 being the legal purchase age for a firearm and ammunition (and 21 for the purchase of handguns).

There is also pending legislation that would aim to regulate “ghost guns,” or firearms that lack serial numbers, and another bill that would prohibit manufacturers from making assault weapons in the Bay State except for police and military, according to the Globe.

“I’m pretty confident that this session isn’t going to end without us making some other adjustments, some way, some how to try to even make our laws even more protective,” Democratic state Rep. James O’Day, of West Boylston, told the newspaper.


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