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Massachusetts Considers Gun Reform Law

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Nearly all states have some sort of law preempting local gun laws.  Preemption means that the State preserves to itself certain areas of the law.  Firearms are a natural for this protection; most   Most are comprehensive; a few are minimal.   Massachusetts has very limited state pre-emption.  From

Massachusetts preempts all gun licensing (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140 sect. 129B), and the state constitution forbids local laws inconsistent with state law; for this reason, Boston’s Dec. 1989 ban on “assault weapons” was not allowed to go into effect until the state legislature later passed a bill authorizing the ban.

States without preemption make it dangerous to exercise Second Amendment rights in any meaningful way.  This is the primary effect, and likely the purpose, desired by those who oppose statewide preemption laws.  States without local preemption laws are potential legal minefields for people who are carrying guns.  From

Describing locally imposed restrictions in Massachusetts as threats to their constitutional rights, some gun owners have lined up behind a bill that would prevent municipalities from instituting their own ordinances around gun licensing.

“All we want is our rights,” Lowell gun owner Arthur Perkins said during a hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security last week. “We don’t want anything special. We’re not asking for any other of the 32 steps that we go through to get a license to be taken away. We want the whimsy, we want the prejudice, we want the crazy beliefs to be taken away with. That is what this bill will do.”

In theory, it is possible to attack these local laws piecemeal, to bring court cases against each local ordinance, and eventually have the laws declared unconstitutional.  The problem with that approach is the intransigence of local anti-Second Amendment activists who local and city governments. They have, in essence, nearly unlimited funds to fight for the offending laws, and significant power to manuver to avoid court decisions.

For example, in Ohio, governments would be sued; they would defend the lawsuit until it appeared that they would lose; then they would repeal the law, rendering the lawsuit void.  Then they would reinstitute the law, slightly changed.

Preemption stops that level of anti-rights action.  Most local and city governments are not willing to directly defy state law.  It happens, but that can backfire.  In Florida and Ohio, state governments upped the ante by strengthening the preemption laws to hold local governments and/or officials responsible, with penalties, if they violated the law.

This  works for State lawmakers in two ways.  First, they satisfy some of their insistent and loud constituents.  Second, it places more power in their hands.

This is part of the checks and balances of a federal system.   If one level of government oppresses you; you have the possibility of using another level of government to remove the oppression.  H.2158 in Massachusetts does exactly that.  Massachusetts gun owners can already point to numerous ways in which they are subjected to frivolous laws that serve no useful purpose.  From the act:

Section 120A. No county, municipality, township or other community entity within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts may enact, pass or enforce any law, ordinance or regulation concerning the lawful ownership, use, possession, transfer, purchase, receipt or transportation of weapons, antique weapons, ammunition or ammunition components.

We will see if Massachusetts joins the vast majority of responsible states that have comprehensive firearms preemption laws.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.
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