Inside Stories

SAFER Act Passes Senate – Heads to Committee

Yesterday, the Massachusetts State Senate passed S.2572 An Act to Sensibly Address Firearm Violence Through Effective Reform, also known as the SAFER Act.

This legislation builds on the Commonwealth’s strong foundation of existing firearms regulations, while updating state laws to reflect new technologies and trends, making residents even safer without infringing on the rights of lawful gun owners. Following a thorough debate amongst members on the Senate floor, the bill passed 37 to 3.

The omnibus legislation—S.2572—was introduced following extensive testimony at a November hearing of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, where the public provided over four hours of testimony on more than 50 gun safety bills before the committee. Led by Majority Leader Cynthia Stone Creem, the bill’s passage follows months of discussions which included stakeholders and advocates with diverse perspectives on the issue.

One of the most notable provisions included in the SAFER Act is language criminalizing the firing of a weapon directly at a dwelling or building in use. This provision was taken from legislation filed earlier this session by State Senator Edward J. Kennedy. Senator Kennedy’s bill, S.1015 An Act prohibiting gunfire directed at dwelling houses, criminalized the intentional discharge of a weapon directed at a dwelling with a punishment of imprisonment of up to 5 years in state prison, or a fine up to $10,000.

“I am pleased that the Senate included the language of my bill within the larger SAFER Act. As lawmakers, it is our duty to equip law enforcement officials and prosecutors with the means to protect the communities that we all serve. This commonsense provision simply modernizes our state’s public safety laws to deem the discharge of a firearm without regard to the risk of harm to be considered a felony and carry a punishment of up to five years in prison”, remarked State Senator Kennedy (D-Lowell).

Kennedy filed his legislation in response to troubling statistics from the Lowell Police Department regarding officer responses to incidents of firearms discharged at dwellings. Over a recent five-year period, from 2018 to 2022, the Lowell Police Department responded to 71 such instances. Senator Kennedy worked in partnership with the office of District Attorney Marian Ryan, who has testified in support of this language numerous times.

“I am grateful for Senator Kennedy’s partnership on this critical new legislation.  It gives prosecutors and police the tools to address the all-too-common scare tactic of firing a gun at someone’s home to intimidate and threaten them.  This behavior endangers not only the residents, but children playing outside, those traveling on foot, bicycle or in a car and creates fear in the neighborhood.  In Middlesex County, there are many streets and intersection where multiple homes have been riddled with bullets.  Homes are our sanctuary and  anyone perpetrating this type of gun violence can now be held appropriately accountable,” said District Attorney Marian Ryan.

The SAFER Act also prohibits the use of unserialized ‘ghost guns’, which refers to privately made firearms that are not marked with an appropriate serial number, and bans the ownership of devices such as ‘Glock switches,’ ‘selector switches,’ and ‘auto sears’ that are specifically designed to make semiautomatic weapons more fatal by altering them to be capable of fully automatic fire. This bill also enhances the state’s red flag law, which allows a court to order an individual to surrender their license to carry firearms along with any firearms they possess when an individual poses a risk of physically harming themselves or others, and codifies the Commonwealth’s existing assault weapons ban as it is currently being interpreted by the Attorney General to ensure Massachusetts residents are kept safe from weapons of war.

Other gun safety provisions within the SAFER Act include:

  • Inspections of Gun Dealers. Ensures that gun dealers are inspected annually and allows the Massachusetts State Police to conduct those inspections if a local licensing agency does not or cannot do so.
  • Harassment Prevention Orders. Protects survivors of harassment by requiring courts to compel the surrender of firearms by individuals who are subject to harassment protection orders who pose an immediate threat.
  • Sensitive Places. Prohibits the carry of firearms in government administrative buildings, with exceptions for law enforcement officers and municipalities that choose to opt out.
  • Mental Health and Gun Licensing. Ensures that firearm licensing authorities have access to certain information about an applicant’s history of involuntary mental health hospitalizations due to posing a serious harm—with appropriate safeguards to guarantee privacy and due process.
  • Data Collection. Creates a more robust data reporting and analysis mechanism for guns used in crimes, suicides, and attempted suicides to ensure that the Commonwealth can better target training and enforcement efforts.
  • Gun Industry Accountability in Advertising. Prohibits the marketing of unlawful firearm sales to minors and allows industry actors to be held civilly liable if such marketing practices lead to an individual being harmed.
  • Community Violence Prevention. Creates a commission to analyze the allocation of state violence prevention funding and recommend changes to reduce gun violence in disproportionately impacted communities; develops a pilot program to promote gun safety awareness and firearms licensing education; and establishes a task force to make recommendations for maximizing federal funding for gun violence prevention in the most equitable way.
  • Emerging Firearm Technology. Establishes a commission to study emerging firearm technology, with a particular focus on products and features that could increase safety.

During debate, the Senate adopted several amendments related to the legislation, including:

  • Providing more access to the department of public health of gun crime data to ensure gun violence is treated as a public health issue.
  • Creating a commission to better understand data around gun violence to help get to the root of gun violence crimes.
  • Providing information on suicide prevention to individuals taking firearm safety and hunter safety courses.
  • Creating a voluntary do-not-sell firearm database to allow individuals who worry they are a threat to themselves or others to voluntarily exclude themselves from having the ability to purchase firearms.

With a version of this legislation having passed in the House of Representatives, the SAFER Act will now head to a conference committee where differences between the two bills will be reconciled.

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