Clerical error causes new gun law to be temporarily scrapped

A proposal to limit the number of guns a person can buy in Massachusetts will not become law for the time being due to a clerical error by the vote counters.

Members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary were being polled concerning House Bill 4102, which included a series of measures proposed by Governor Patrick to reduce gun violence. When the votes were counted, it was a tie: 4 in favor and 4 opposed, along with several non-votes. Lacking a majority, a negative report on the legislation was transmitted to the House clerk for official recording.

The problem was the actual vote was 6 in favor and 4 opposed.  Whoever tallied the votes counted only those submitted by the House members of the Joint Committee and mistakenly left off those cast by the Senate members. By the time the procedural blunder was discovered, the erroneous outcome had already been recorded and set in legislative stone.

The bill, introduced by Governor Deval Patrick in May 2009, would have prevented people from buying more than one gun a month. Proponents of the bill say it would make it difficult for gun traffickers to obtain weapons in bulk, and then sell them illegally on the streets of Boston. Right now, people licensed to buy guns can buy an unlimited number of weapons. Gun control advocates said that allows for “straw purchases,” in which people who are legally able to buy guns are hired by gun traffickers to purchase weapons.

Almost 2,000 illegal guns were recovered last year in the state, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The agency traced 1,084 of those weapons. Of that amount, about 36 percent originated in Massachusetts dealers and stores licensed to sell guns.

Nancy Robinson, director of Citizens for Safety, a Jamaica Plain-based coalition that fights gun trafficking, said that statistic shows the need to put more restrictions on buying guns in Massachusetts, where opponents of gun control say the laws for purchasing weapons are already strict.

“We’re hoping it will drive some traffickers out of business,” she said. “They can’t turn as high a profit. They have to work that much harder to get that many guns to sell on the street.”

The bill would not affect gun dealers and stores, said Heffernan.

Jim Wallace, executive director of Gun Owners Action League, a Northborough-based organization opposed to the bill, said the proposal unfairly targeted people licensed to buy guns who have done nothing wrong.

“It blames them for crime,” he said. “It’s taking a group of citizens that are following the law and placing the blame at their feet for the actions that are taking place in the city.”

State Senator Cynthia Stone Creem, a Newton Democrat, said she introduced legislation about three years ago that would limit gun purchases. “Anything we try and do to keep guns out of the hands of gangs and kids, is very important,” she said.

If a majority of the committee had found in favor of the legislation, the bill would have then been scheduled for a vote before the House.

The bill’s provisions also included tougher sanctions on suspects accused of unlawful gun possession or committing felonies with a firearm. The proposal would have allowed prosecutors to request that such defendants be held without bail pending trial. The bill would have also prohibited anyone from handling a machine gun unless they are licensed to do so.

Governor Patrick’s only recourse is apparently to re-file the bill and start the process over.

About Attorney John J. MacLaughlan

John MacLaughlan is Massachusetts licensed attorney as well as a Boston police officer. John is currently assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force (Gang Unit). He is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law with a concentration in Labor Law. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as well as a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. John has taught Defensive Tactics, Firearms, Use of Force, Applied Patrol Procedures, and Police Response to Active Shooters to sworn police officers and police academy recruits. Prior to becoming a Boston Police Officer, John served for 9 years as a police officer in Lowell, where he was a member of the Police Dive Team and Patrol Rifle Team.
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