Gun Laws & Legislation

The Romney Record On Guns

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A look at Mitt Romney’s record as Governor of Massachusetts as it relates to the gun owners and sportsmen of Massachusetts.

In the first months of the Romney administration the Governor isolated himself to all but a handful of close advisors most of whom came from the business community. This caused the Governor to make some rather serious political missteps that could have been avoided through better communications. However, relations dramatically improved and in the end, GOAL had more access to this administration than any other since the days of Governor Ed King in 1979.

The two major events that eventually led to this improved relationship were the raid on the Inland Fisheries & Game Fund in 2003 and a botched press conference/bill signing in 2004. Both situations are outlined in this report.

While at the time these events greatly angered GOAL members, the result was much improved access to the Governor’s office and his staff. During the following years, senior level Romney staffers met on a monthly basis with GOAL’s Executive Director to discuss and work on any issues relevant to GOAL’s members. This should not be taken as an indication that GOAL “controlled” the corner office, but rather that a very good working relationship was developed that benefited both parties.

Legislation: 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. His administration also worked with Gun Owners’ Action League and the Democratic leadership of the Massachusetts House and Senate to remove any anti-Second Amendment language from the Gang Violence bill passed in 2006. A summary of this legislation follows.

Budgetary: In the Governor’s first year, he made a political error when he submitted a budget that did away with the Inland Fisheries & Game Fund. (More of this is explained below.) Fortunately, after this matter was resolved, GOAL was able to establish better communications with the Governor’s office. In working with the legislature and the Governor we were able to restore the Fund and increase the money released from it to better manage the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Over the next three years, GOAL was also successful in getting some “capital revenue” released to acquire land for the Division.

Regulations: During his administration, the Executive Office of Public Safety passed a new regulation providing free replacement of firearm licenses to those who had them stolen or lost. (A resident license fee in Massachusetts at that time was $100 every 6 years.) Prior to this new regulation a citizen would have to repeat the entire application process and pay the whole fee to acquire a replacement license.

Policy: His administration conducted a review of the state’s Environmental Police agency (Game Wardens). One major concern was to keep in place the hiring requirement that officers needed to have some environmental education background not strictly law enforcement. This was a policy that GOAL worked to support.

Fees: In 2003 Governor Romney filed budgetary language to raise firearm license fees from $25 to $75. That year the legislature actually raised them to $100 in the General Appropriations bill (Section 34 of Chapter 140 of the Acts of 2003). At that time a resident license was good for 4 years. In 2004 a law was passed increasing the license term to 6 years.

In 2005, Governor Romney waived the administrative fees for the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Fund. The state currently charges these fees that were as much as 36% a year. Gun Owners’ Action League worked with environmental organizations to urge the Governor to temporarily waive the fees until permanent legislation could be passed to do away with the fees all together.

Appointments: One of the agencies that GOAL watches very closely is the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. This agency is run by a strong seven-person board. The appointments to this board are spread out over several years so that drastic changes cannot be made to it in any given year. During his administration, Governor Romney made five appointments to this board. All of the individuals appointed to the board were supported by GOAL.

Proclamations: During his administration, Governor Romney issued a proclamation declaring May 7, 2005 as “The Right to Bear Arms Day”. The proclamation was issued on this date to coincide with GOAL’s Annual Banquet.

* It should be noted for readers of this report that are not familiar with Massachusetts politics that the titles of the legislation do not always reflect the intent. For instance the bill entitled “An Act Further Regulating Certain Weapons” was actually a pro-Second Amendment bill that began the process of reforming the state’s gun laws.

Chapter 101 of the Acts of 2003: An Act Relative to the Inland Fisheries and Game Fund

In Mitt Romney’s first budget as governor in 2003 he proposed that the state do away with all of the “minor funds” within the state’s accounting system. At the time there were around 80 or so minor funds dealing with all sorts of government programs. The Massachusetts House and Senate followed suit.

As a result of this the Inland Fisheries and Game Fund, considered a “minor fund”, was done away with and all the money was diverted into the General Fund in an attempt to balance the state budget. The Inland Fisheries and Game Fund is where all of the sporting license fees (hunting, fishing, trapping, etc.) are deposited. Unknowingly the Governor had touched what is referred to as a “Third Rail” in politics.

The Inland Fisheries and Game Fund is considered to be sacred among sportsmen, conservationists and environmentalist in Massachusetts. The Fund, which was created by sportsmen, accounts for over 90% of the review that our Fish & Wildlife Agency operates on. The dedicated Fund was also necessary under federal law if the state wanted to take advantage of matching money from the federal government.

As a result of the action, a coalition of sportsmen, conservationists and environmentalist formed the Massachusetts Conservation Alliance (MCA) to rescue the fund. After several months of lobbying the legislature and the Governor’s office, the MCA was successful in the re-instatement of the Inland Fisheries and Game Fund. The Governor signed the re-instatement legislation into law in October of 2003.

Chapter 150 of the Acts of 2004: An Act Further Regulating Certain Weapons

This is a perfect example of don’t believe in titles. The bill was the greatest victory for gun owners since the passage of the gun control laws in 1998 (Chapter 180 of the Acts of 1998). It was a reform bill totally supported by GOAL. Press and media stories around the country got it completely wrong when claimed the bill was an extension of the “assault weapon” ban that had sunset at the federal level. They could not have been more wrong. Unfortunately for the Governor, someone had also wrongly briefed him about the bill. As a result the Lt. Governor and the Governor made statements at the bill signing ceremony that angered GOAL members. The following is what the bill actually did:

1. Established the Firearm License Review Board (FLRB). The 1998 law created new criteria for disqualifying citizens for firearms licenses that included any misdemeanor punishable by more than two years even if no jail time was ever served.

For instance, a first conviction of operating a motor vehicle under the influence would result in the loss of your ability to own a handgun for life and long guns for a minimum of five years. This Board is now able to review cases under limited circumstances to restore licenses to individuals who meet certain criteria.

2. Mandated that a minimum of $50,000 of the licensing fees be used for the operation of the FLRB so that the Board would not cease operating under budget cuts.

3. Extended the term of the state’s firearm licenses from 4 years to 6 years.

4. Permanently attached the federal language concerning assault weapon exemptions in18 USC 922 Appendix A to the Massachusetts assault weapons laws. This is the part that the media misrepresented.

In 1998 the Massachusetts legislature passed its own assault weapons ban (MGL Chapter 140, Section 131M). This ban did not rely on the federal language and contained no sunset clause. Knowing that we did not have the votes in 2004 to get rid of the state law, we did not want to loose all of the federal exemptions that were not in the state law so this new bill was amended to include them.

5. Re-instated a 90 day grace period for citizens who were trying to renew their firearm license. Over the past years, the government agencies in charge had fallen months behind in renewing licenses. At one point it was taking upwards of a year to renew a license. Under Massachusetts law, a citizen cannot have a firearm or ammunition in their home with an expired license.

6. Mandated that law enforcement must issue a receipt for firearms that are confiscated due to an expired license. Prior to this law, no receipts were given for property       confiscated which led to accusations of stolen or lost firearms after they were confiscated by police.

7. Gave free license renewal for law enforcement officers who applied through their employing agency.

8. Changed the size and style of a firearm license to that of a driver’s license so that it would fit in a normal wallet. The original license was 3” x 4”.

9. Created stiffer penalties for armed home invaders.

Chapter 137 of the Acts of 2005: An Act Relative to a Loaded Shotgun or Rifle

Prior to this bill passing there were two different laws on the books in Massachusetts that defined what a loaded muzzle loader was. This bill corrected the language in the laws so that now both provide that if the priming device is removed, the muzzle loader is considered unloaded. Although this bill sounds like a “no brainer” it took nearly 5 years to pass.

Chapter 137 of the Acts of 2006: An Act Removing Automatic Qualifications for Certain Licenses

The Hunter Education bill, S.469, was signed into law by Governor Mitt Romney on July 6, 2006.

The new law will require that all first time hunters complete a hunter education course prior to being issued a hunting or sporting license. This was already the law prior to very confusing language that was passed in SECTION 7 of Chapter 180 of the Acts of  1998. GOAL successfully had an amendment included to amend the bill to “grandfather” anyone who has been issued a license prior to January 1, 2007.

Chapter 177 of the Acts of 2006: An Act Further Regulating the Use of Target Shooting Weapons

As part of the 1998 law the Massachusetts legislature passed severe restrictions on the sale of handguns in Massachusetts by creating an absurd list of testing requirements that all handguns must be subjected to before being eligible for sale in the state. At the same time, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office fraudulently used the consumer protection laws of the state to do the same thing. Because of these actions, high grade target pistols could not be sold in Massachusetts. This bill addressed that issue.

This is what the new law does:

  1. Provides that any firearm lawfully owned or possessed under a license issued under this chapter on or before October 21, 1998 would be exempt from the testing criteria. This language was passed into law in Section 79 of the Acts of 1998, but was never actually placed into the statutes. This law now established this exemption in Chapter 140.
  2. Instructs the Executive Office of Public Safety, with the advice of the Gun Control Advisory Board, to create a list of formal target shooting firearms that shall be exempt from the testing criteria. This process will be similar to how the approved roster works.

EOPS passed 501 CMR 9.00 a regulation to provide free replacement licenses.

During his administration, the Executive Office of Public Safety approved a new regulation providing free replacement firearm licenses to those who had them stolen or lost. (A resident license fee in Massachusetts at that time was $100 every 6 years.) Prior to this regulation being created a citizen would have to repeat the entire application process and pay the entire fee to acquire a replacement license.

Chapter 48 of the Acts of 2006: An Act Reducing Gang Violence (Section 6 – committing or concealing a crime)

Although this particular legislation was not a GOAL bill, we list it here because there were several anti-Second Amendment sections in the original draft. The legislative sponsors of the bill, GOAL, and the Romney administration all worked together to remove any bad sections. We were successful in doing so and actually came up with some new language that more affectively went after the criminal element.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to the staff at the Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL) of Massachusetts for providing this article to The Daily Caller. You can visit the GOAL website by clicking right here

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Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts