The Romney Assault Weapons Ban That Wasn’t

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 by Governor Cellucci 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:

“Deadly 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.”

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. 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.

31 thoughts on “The Romney Assault Weapons Ban That Wasn’t”

  1. Remember when you said the other day to remind you not to piss off Linoge? This might be one of those times. I tried to relay this same information to him the other day and it did not go well.

    1. Heh… I’m just putting it out there. I didn’t have anyone specific in mind when I drafted this. It was actually the comment I linked to in the previous post that made me think to do this.

  2. I think it’s useful in politics to ask the question of who’s worse: the wolf who comes openly or the wolf in sheep’s clothing. One attacks you from outside, the other sneaks up on you on the inside.

  3. Massachusetts is not a state where ambiguity in the law is decided in favor of a gun owner.

    You severely understate the problem. The state’s supreme court, at least in the ’80s, repeatedly construed the state’s “no duty to retreat in your home” laws against gun owners, resulting in e.g. a case where man was imprisoned for not abandoning his sleeping daughter to the tender mercies of a home invader (not an urban legend, I “watched” the prosecution as it happened in The Boston Globe). The final result as far as I know with the final “this time we mean it!” law was to limit it in rentals to those who’s names are on the lease.

    Note that the above helps you to understand how the legislature isn’t entirely anti-gun or anti-self-defense.

  4. I regret that I often can’t help what a subject makes me think of; comes with getting old, they tell me.

    This gave me a flashback to when the Republican excuse for introducing and passing an AWB in the state House in 1993, was that theirs was better than the Deomcrats’ version. I can’t help wondering how much of that stuff involves bipartisan choreography, as things move forward incrementally.

    1. Or worse, remember Bill “Tax Collector for the Welfare State” Dole? Prior to Reagan the two side worked out a really special deal: the Democrats would spend money through their legislative acts and the Republicans would raise tax rates to in theory pay for them. Only slightly mitigated in the public’s view by regular well publicized “tax cuts” that after inflation pushed people into higher brackets resulted in more tax revenue in theory (“in theory” because JFK and Reagan demonstrated for anyone who has eyes to see the truth of the Laffer Curve principle).

    2. Agreed. I didn’t expect to see Sebastian become an apologist for Romney’s anti-2A record. Especially the ‘misadvised’ signing statement. I suppose Romney left his reading glasses at home that day?

      1. Misadvised follows naturally from our judgment, further confirmed last night, that he doesn’t know squat about our subject.

        However, something prompted him to both sign a pro-RKBA bill and trash talk AWs. Evidently the info Sebastian has is that someone advising him was responsible for the latter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone advised him to sign this bill. After all he didn’t have to sign it.

        That does bring up a significant issue: did Romney even realize this was a pro-RKBA bill, one that GOAL had helped engineer? I.e. did he think he was truly signing an anti-gun owner AW ban?

        All that said, I see no evidence he cares at all for the subject or will desire to do anything about it, good or bad … and if elected he will have a very full plate for quite a while. Whatever we care about the RKBA, the US hitting a fiscal wall with “trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see” is a greater problem right now. Ditto terminating Obamacare with extreme prejudice. And need I mention returning our foreign policy to something sane and good for the country?

      2. I’m not apologizing for anyone. This is how it happened. If you think governors and presidents actually read the bills they sign I have a bridge to sell you. They have people who do that. Sometimes those people even tell them what their position is on the bill and advise on signing statements.

        1. If you think governors and presidents actually read the bills they sign I have a bridge to sell you. They have people who do that.

          Which raises another serious issue entirely. These people should not be signing bills if they haven’t read them or don’t understand them.

          1. In simpler times, sure. But even very good lawyers often specialize in certain areas of law. And then you have executives who aren’t lawyers, of which Mitt is in that category.

            1. That’s no excuse for not actually reading and understanding a bill before signing it.

              If advisors are needed to help with the understanding part, that’s fine, but reading something is necessary both to understanding it, and to making sure that the advisors aren’t misleading him.

              I stand by my previous statement: These people should not be signing bills if they haven’t read them or don’t understand them.

              1. Personally, I’d be OK with governors vetoing any bill they don’t have time to understand. The bigger problem is that lawmakers love to make laws. Lots of laws. Covering more subjects than anyone could really be an expert on. To a large degree that’s why lobbyists are important.

                I’m a big fan of part time legislators, if for no other purpose than limiting the amount of damage that can be done. I don’t really disagree with you. In an ideal world all these things would happen. But we live in a world where government is out of control, and the people are largely OK with that, to the extent that they are aware of it. Anyone who’s a politician in the system today is part of the problem. But it won’t get fixed until the people want it fixed.

            2. Actually, Romney is a non-practicing or rather never practicing lawyer. He did a joint Harvard MBA and Law program and passed the Michigan bar exam in 1975. According to Wikipedia, according to the book The Real Romney this was a fall-back in case his business efforts failed.

              I’d add that, unfortunately, a good legal education and mind (bar exams are not known for being easy) is an asset in the modern American business world :-(

      3. Ash, I agree with you. Sebastian sounds too damm apologetic for Romney’s action. Like you, I do not buy the bullshit about being “misadvised.” He signed the damm bill…that it, pure and simple. I dislike any politician, Rep or Dem, who tries to “circumvent” my inalienable right to protect myself.

        1. Did you read the post? He didn’t sign an assault weapons ban. It was his signing statement that was wrong, not the bill itself. It’s one thing to be apologetic, and another thing to say what the bill actually says after having read it. I don’t apologize for Romney’s signing statement… but he never signed a gun ban.

  5. I’m just contributing the following in the spirit of “here’s what’s being said.” I stumbled over it today:

    Will Media Fact Check Romney’s Assault Weapons Ban Claim?


    GOAL fired back with its own press release titled, “Firearm Reform Bill Signed, Romney Takes Opportunity to Betray Gun Owners.” The organization was especially irked that, “When asked by a reporter if he supported the renewal of the federal ‘assault weapons’ ban and if he had spoken to the senators about it, Governor Romney replied that it was not really his job to lobby on federal legislation, but that he shared Senator Kerry’s and Senator Kennedy’s position on the issue!”

  6. Curses be upon you for making me defend the MSM. However, I have to ask — How is it “the media peddling BS” when it’s a video of Mittens in his own words? It’s not doctored. It’s not taken out of context. It’s him in his own words. Perhaps he THOUGHT he was signing (which can be equated with “supporting” or, at a minimum “not opposing”) a ban. The fact that it’s factually incorrect lies on Mitt, not on anyone playing the video.

    Having said that, I get that it’s a soundbite that doesn’t reflect reality, but that’s par for the course for what passes as media in this day and time. Caveat emptor.

    1. When they just play his signing statement, that’s Mitt hanging himself. When they start speaking of the content of the bill, that’s where they are wrong, or talk about Mitt signing an assault weapons ban, that is just factually incorrect.

  7. So when an executive signs a bill into law he is not responsible for the signing statement because he didn’t read it? What a relief.

  8. A man walks in to his elderly father’s bedroom one night. He empties a revolver into his father.

    What he didn’t know is that his father had died fifteen minutes earlier of a heart attack.

    Is the man a murderer?

    That’s what the bill vs signing statement says to me. It doesn’t matter what the bill DID. It matters what he THOUGHT it did.

    Fortunately, I don’t see Congress pushing anything to him. Unfortunately, he doesn’t need Congress to do something like the 1989 import ban.

    1. In your last point, you’re assuming he either wants to be “a successful one term president” (quoting Obama) or he and his staff are entirely ignorant of what gun control actions will do to his re-election prospects. And that he doesn’t listen to Ryan at all.

      Plus I’ll repeat this point: I see no evidence whatsoever he cares about this issue, one way or another.

      1. “. . .he and his staff are entirely ignorant of what gun control actions will do to his re-election prospects. . .”

        How so? What he did in the past doesn’t seem to have hurt him a bit this time, so what’s supposed to scare him/them about the future? Gun owners will do what they always do.

        He will still have the NRA covering for him, and the Republicans will still be singing “Where else are gun owners going to go?”, exactly as they do in every election.

        1. What he did in the past doesn’t seem to have hurt him a bit this time….

          How can we know that? He has had a serious problem with the Republican base, of which we are an important part. It’s probably no accident that he picked for his VP a hunter who looks to have at least a toe in Gun Culture 2.0 (if the report about Ryan’s “M4” marksmanship is true; he certainly could use something like that for feral hogs).

          The NRA did what it could for G. H. W. Bush in 1988 (remember the solid black background cover with the infamous Dukakis quote?) but refused to endorse him in 1992. His loss was due to more than just gun voters aware of his AR banning, but I’m sure it was a factor (he lost my vote); hard to say then or perhaps even now that Clinton was going to be worse.

          OK, things are more polarized today … but a well earned failure to turn out the base sunk McCain, so, yes, we can go somewhere else (might have to, these are existential times for the nation and the major political parties), or simply not go on election day, or abstain on the Presidential vote.

          I note more than a few regular commentators to this blog have declared they’re going to that even before we have a chance to find out how Romney would govern WRT to the RKBA.

  9. Thank you for posting this. This corroborates information about Romney’s gun record that I read a while ago but haven’t had time to locate. I think it’s critical that more gun owners and 2A advocates understand exactly what his record is, because there’s a lot of misunderstanding.

    I think the following statements from GOAL are the most telling:

    “GOAL had more access to this administration than any other since the days of Governor Ed King in 1979.”

    “During the Romney Administration, no anti-Second Amendment or anti-sportsmen legislation made its way to the Governor’s desk.
    “Governor Romney did sign five pro-Second Amendment/pro-sportsmen bills into law.”

    It is obvious to me that Romney isn’t a strong advocate for gun rights, nor is he particularly knowledgeable about guns and gun issues. But he’s not anti-gun, and he’s on record as both supporting national CCW reciprocity and opposing an assault weapons ban. Obama has the opposite stance, and he has a record of restricting gun rights whenever he has the chance and political cover to do so.

    This election cycle, our best choice is clearly Romney.

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