Being very close personally with someone who worked at GOAL during the Romney Administration, there is a lot to like and a lot to dislike about Mitt Romney’s record on our issue. What’s not to like has gone largely undiscussed. What’s been discussed far more often is the assault weapons issue, which alternately has people or the media suggesting Romney made Massachusetts’s assault weapons ban permanent, or accusing him of being the Governor who passed Massachusetts’s Assault Weapons Ban in the first place. Both are untrue. The ban passed and signed byÂ Governor CellucciÂ in 1998 never had an expiration. The problem came about in 2004 because Massachusetts Law makes several references to the federal ban. Without the supporting language from the federal ban, the definition of what exactly an assault weapon is in Massachusetts would have become uncertain. Fine, right? Well, no. Massachusetts is not a state where ambiguity in the law is decided in favor of a gun owner. The definition of assault weapon contains the language “shall include, but not be limited to,” which is like music to the ears of a prosecutor wanting to warn the fair citizenry that they exercise their right in his fiefdom at their peril. The limiting language in the Massachusetts definition was tied to a Federal Law which was about to disappear.
In 2004 that anti-gun leaders of the Massachusetts Legislature started to raise false concerns about needing to make Massachusetts’s assault weapons ban permanent, given that the federal ban was about to expire. This was never true, but presented an excuse to convince other legislators to revisit, and simultaneously greatly expand the definition of what an assault weapon is in Massachusetts, making the ban cover far more firearms. They went ahead and drafted a bill. Fortunately for gun owners in Massachusetts, GOAL was able to essentially gut the bill, and preserve the existing language in the definition, which included the federal list of exempted firearms. In addition they got a number of other easements to the bill which are detailed in their press release speaking about Romney’s record on guns. The anti-gun sponsors of the original bill were not pleased, but the rest of the Massachusetts Legislature went along with the GOAL plan of preserving the existing definition in the law, and slipping in some easements through under the radar. This wasn’t about making the ban permanent. Massachusetts Law would have still made assault weapons illegal, just with a far more nebulous definition of what exactly an assault weapon is.
While the anti-gun sponsors were not happy about what their bill had turned into, they got a lot happier when Governor Romney was misadvised about the bill he was signing and made the now infamous signing statement:
â€œDeadly assault weapons have no place in Massachusetts. These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.â€
That was essentially cover for them, especially given that the media ran with this, and has kept running ever since. GOAL was inundated with calls from angry gun owners, who took the media and anti-gun legislators word on what the bill actually did.Â No one, not reporters, anti-gun folks, or angry citizens, bothered to read the actual law. While it takes some work to follow, but it’s pretty easy to see the effect of the first three sections of the law, if you look at the statute it is modifying, by inserting a concrete reference to the federal law with the addition of a date. The rest you need a deeper understanding of Massachusetts gun law to follow, but the “assault weapons” parts aren’t hard.
So Romney has never signed a gun ban, and anyone who suggests he has is missing the facts. He did other things, such as raising fees to try to balance Massachusetts’s budget, rather than raising taxes. Massachusetts has long required people to obtain licenses to possess firearms. Among those fees he raised were gun licenses, and the price hike was not trivial. The price was quadrupled without concern to what effect this would have on the exercise of people’s rights. The burden is not minor for someone who doesn’t have much money. That’s enough reason to distrust Romney on the issue as much as a gun ban is. I don’t blame gun owners who are wary of Mitt. But I’d like to see that wariness based on facts, and not bullshit peddled by the media.