In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre that killed 58 and injured more than 500, Massachusetts became the first state to ban bump stocks Friday.
Bump stocks, the gun accessory in question, allow semi-automatic weapons to increase their rate of fire to mimic that of an automatic weapon such as a machine gun, Ann Haaser, the administrator and advocacy coordinator for the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, wrote in a Facebook message. Automatic weapons are generally illegal for private citizens of the country to own.
The ban lessens the deadly impact of rifles as shooters would be less able to fire as many bullets as they could with bump stocks, Haaser wrote.
The bill, signed by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, will go into effect 90 days from when she signed it, The Boston Globe reported. This move from the Massachusetts Senate comes after the two mass shootings which have happened in the United States recently.
Kevin Wozniak, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said this bill will have a small impact on Massachusetts itself and its residents.
“I view this more as a symbolic policy,” Wozniak said. “It is policy makers planting their flag and essentially try to signal for the electorate, ‘We take this problem seriously, we are committed to addressing gun violence, and so we’re going to enact this particular piece of gun control legislation.’ It could be meaningful in the sense that it’s at least some type of gun control legislation on the books.”
Wozniak said this revived interest in gun control policies is a counter-effect of the shootings. Having written an article on public opinion on guns after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, he said there is often a peak in support for anti-gun laws following gun violence — support which often dwindles shortly thereafter.
“I very much think that they struck while the iron was hot, so to speak, because we have this rare window of opportunity where the National Rifle Association has given its blessing to bump stocks bans,” Wozniak said.
As mass shootings revive the public’s interest in discussing gun laws, it also inflames the political divide on the issue, Wozniak said.
“I think we’re going to see conservative voters and republicans retreat even more firmly into the position that open carry will make us safer, and liberal, democratic voters will retreat even more strongly into the perspective that we need strong gun control,” Wozniak said. “They are just going to scream at each other on that divide.”
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League said the language used in this bill was more concise than in previous attempts.
“The original language was so broad that literally cleaning your gun, which we all do if we’re gun owners it’s like changing the oil in your car, could have made you a felon in Massachusetts,” Wallace said.
However, Wallace still considers this ban unnecessary for the state.
“I don’t think that there was any public safety reason to rush this the way they did,” Wallace said. “If you’re going to do something, let’s do it across the country.”
Wallace said the bump stock ban would also create more complications for gun owners, as many guns equipped with bump stocks will soon be considered illegal machine guns.
“The law that passed does not allow them to sell [rifles with bump stocks] or offer for sale so we’re not quite sure what we’re supposed to do with them,” Wallace said.
Now that the bill was passed, it is the role of the Department of Public Safety to guide bump-stock-equipped gun owners through the process of getting rid of the modifying equipment, he said.
“Something that is legally defined as a gun you can’t just throw in the trash,” Wallace said.
Several Boston residents voiced varying opinions on the legislation, though all supported tighter restrictions on gun laws.
Nic Seyffert, 23, of Brighton, said the ban represents one more step toward banning assault rifles.
“I think that’s what is important,” Seyffert said. “If you want to defend yourself you should have the right to carry a gun, but you don’t need a giant military rifle to do so.”
Jason Roberts, 40, of Allston, said bump stocks should have never been at anyone’s disposal in the first place.
“[The legislation] definitely not bad, [but] I don’t think that it should have happened in response to the shootings,” Roberts said. “I think they should have never been legal, for bump stocks to be available to anybody.”
Shirley Wong, 21, of Brighton, said the legislation is just for show because it doesn’t affect the number of guns owned.
“It still doesn’t really affect the [number] of guns that are still out there, so either way it’s not much difference I guess,” Wong said. “I think it’s a way to tell people that, ‘Hey we’ve done something,’ but actually it doesn’t really do anything — at the end it’s still the same.”