Massachusetts is the first state since the deadly shooting in Las Vegas last month to ban bump stocks, the gun accessory the shooter used to increase his rate of fire.
Bump stocks became a major source of discussion among lawmakers across the country after the attachments were found on the guns of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 and injured some 500 last month. But talk of banning the devices nationwide appears to have stalled.
Beginning in 2018, penalties for the possession or use of a bump stock or trigger crank in Massachusetts will range from probation to life in prison, Representative David Linsky, a Democrat who proposed the amendment, told CNN.
The new law defines a bump stock as “any device for a weapon that increases the rate of fire achievable with such weapon by using energy from the recoil of the weapon to generate a reciprocating action that facilitates repeated activation of the trigger.”
In other words, the devices allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more rapidly, similar to automatic weapons. Twelve of them were found on firearms recovered from Paddock’s Las Vegas hotel room.
Critics of the legislation say lawmakers rushed to push the passage without holding public hearings.
Jim Wallace, Executive Director of the Gun Owners Action League, a Massachusetts gun-rights group, called the legislation “a knee-jerk reaction.”
Though lawmakers in the Massachusetts House and Senate both introduced traditional bills just days after the October 1 Las Vegas shooting, the legislators ultimately felt they needed to act in response to a public outcry from constituents, Linsky told CNN.
Constituents flooded the inboxes of Massachusetts lawmakers, and Linsky said the “vast majority were begging legislators to do something about the situation.”
State House members enacted the ban by introducing language in an amendment to the fiscal year 2017 budget.
Massachusetts Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, acting for Governor Charlie Baker, who was out of state on vacation, signed the amendment into law Friday, only a day after it was passed by legislators. The ban will take effect 90 days from when it was signed into law.
“Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito support the Second Amendment to the Constitution and Massachusetts’ strict gun laws, including the ban on assault weapons and bump stocks, and are pleased that the Commonwealth continues to lead in passing commonsense reforms,” Governor Baker’s office said in a statement to CNN.
Wallace, the gun-rights advocate, called the bump stock a “novelty” but said, “we’re still not sure what these people who do have them should do with them.”
“The legislature should have left a path to ownership and now needs to provide guidance for people who legally purchased these devices before this ban,” he added. “It makes no sense to ban bump stock possession from someone who can legally own a machine gun; this is after all a piece of plastic and a spring.”
Rep. Linsky confirmed to CNN that a person can still legally obtain a machine gun in Massachusetts, but said the qualifications for a license are so narrow that barely 1,000 people in the state have them.
“There are so few of them that are legally owned in Massachusetts,” said Linsky, who added that banning the weapons is “not something that we’re considering.”