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Massachusetts Bump Stock Mess

It appears they are still illegal in Massachusetts.

On Friday, June 14, 2024 the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its ruling in Garland v. Cargill. This particular case was a challenge to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms Explosives (BATFE) regulation banning bump stocks and redefined them as machine guns claiming that a semi-automatic equipped with a bump stock to be a machine gun. SCOTUS disagreed and ruled against the BATFE citing the technical definition of the function of a machine gun’s trigger mechanism in the National Firearms Act.

Since the ruling, many in Massachusetts have been pondering the decision and how it might affect the ban in this state and unfortunately it is unlikely to have any effect at all. However, as expected, given the complicated state of the rest of the gun laws in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth’s bump stock law is no different - it’s a confusing mess. 

Massachusetts law includes bump stocks in the legal definition of machine gun and that same law includes stand-alone definition as well. While the machine gun piece in the Commonwealth’s law could be challenged, there is still an outright ban separate of the inclusion in the machine gun definition. But where is it?

So, while the actual language banning bump stocks does not appear in the enumerated Massachusetts General Laws, the language banning the items is included in a bill that was passed in 2017 - which now has the force of law even though it has not been incorporated into any statutes. Chapter 110, Section 53 of the acts of 2017, is the only place where the language appears and was never incorporated into the General Laws, but it is the law, nonetheless - so, it is not in the laws, but it is law - typical of Massachusetts gun laws.

So again, after an exhaustive review of the convoluted state language, it would appear the SCOTUS decision really has no effect on the State’s ban. This is due to one very clear difference between the federal and state action. The BATFE’s action was done through a unilateral and seemingly arbitrary regulatory process without any congressional action or oversight behind it. The Massachusetts’ ban was created through the legislative process and has the force of statute.

 

The National Firearms Act (NFA), 26 U.S.C.:

(b) Machinegun. The term 'machinegun' means any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.

Massachusetts General Laws:

Chapter 140, Section 121:

''Bump stock'', 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.

''Machine gun'', a weapon of any description, by whatever name known, loaded or unloaded, from which a number of shots or bullets may be rapidly or automatically discharged by one continuous activation of the trigger, including a submachine gun; provided, however, that ''machine gun'' shall include bump stocks and trigger cranks.

''Trigger crank'', any device to be attached to a weapon that repeatedly activates the trigger of the weapon through the use of a lever or other part that is turned in a circular motion; provided, however, that ''trigger crank'' shall not include any weapon initially designed and manufactured to fire through the use of a crank or lever.

Chapter 140, Section 131:

(o) No person shall be issued a license to carry or possess a machine gun in the commonwealth, except that a licensing authority or the colonel of state police may issue a machine gun license to:

(i) a firearm instructor certified by the municipal police training committee for the sole purpose of firearm instruction to police personnel;

(ii) a bona fide collector of firearms upon application or upon application for renewal of such license.

Clauses (i) and (ii) of this paragraph shall not apply to bump stocks and trigger cranks.

 

Chapter 110 of the Acts of 2017:

SECTION 52. The executive office of public safety and security shall notify individuals licensed under sections 122, 129B, and 131 of chapter 140 of the General Laws of the changes to laws made in sections 18 to 21, inclusive, of this act and the effective date of those changes. The executive office shall also notify manufacturers of bump stocks and trigger cranks, as defined in sections 18 and 19 of this act, of the changes made under said sections 18 to 21, inclusive, and the effective date of those changes.

SECTION 53. Sections 18 to 21, inclusive, shall take effect 90 days after the effective date of this act; provided, however, that no person shall purchase, sell or offer for sale a bump stock or trigger crank, as defined in sections 18 and 19 of this act, after the effective date of this act.

 


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