The Massachusetts Experiment in Gun Control

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Writing in the Boston Globe, columnist Jeff Jacoby argues that harsh gun-control laws haven’t worked in Massachusetts:

IN 1998, Massachusetts passed what was hailed as the toughest gun-control legislation in the country. Among other stringencies, it banned semiautomatic “assault” weapons, imposed strict new licensing rules, prohibited anyone convicted of a violent crime or drug trafficking from ever carrying or owning a gun, and enacted severe penalties for storing guns unlocked. …

The 1998 legislation did cut down, quite sharply, on the legal use of guns in Massachusetts. Within four years, the number of active gun licenses in the state had plummeted. “There were nearly 1.5 million active gun licenses in Massachusetts in 1998,” the AP reported. “In June [2002], that number was down to just 200,000.” The author of the law, state Senator Cheryl Jacques, was pleased that the Bay State’s stiff new restrictions had made it possible to “weed out the clutter.” …

But the law that was so tough on law-abiding gun owners had quite a different impact on criminals.

Since 1998, gun crime in Massachusetts has gotten worse, not better. In 2011, Massachusetts recorded 122 murders committed with firearms, the Globe reported this month — “a striking increase from the 65 in 1998.” Other crimes rose too. Between 1998 and 2011, robbery with firearms climbed 20.7 percent. Aggravated assaults jumped 26.7 percent.

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That’s in contrast with its neighbors.  Jacoby points to work by John Lott showing that the Bay State’s murder rate has grown relative to its neighbors.  At the beginning of its gun “reform,” Massachusetts had 70% of the murder rate of the rest of New England.  Now it has 125%.

According to the FBI’s statistics, Massachusetts achieved that result by failing to see the decrease in murders that the rest of New England experienced.  One notable exception is that Rhode Island failed to see any decrease, as well, and at 2.4 per 100,000 is higher than Massachusetts’s 2.0.  Rhode Island, as we often hear, is in the top 10 states for strict gun laws, and it isn’t at all clear that climbing to the top would reduce violence in the state.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    My experience, living in Massachusetts. I had had a gun license for many years when I moved to Boston. It expired and I went to the police station to have it renewed. The officer asked me to field strip and re-assemble a 1911 Colt, figuring that would boggle me. I did it and returned it to him. He said “It’ll be a cold day in hell when you get a license”. I asked why, “We don’t give them out”. In 2002, living closer to RI, it was close to expired again. I went to he station to renew. I was told to sit and wait, I did for and hour and a half, then decided I had other thing to do. Returned a second time, same story. Returned a third time, by which time it had expired. I was told that since it had expired I would have to start all over again, “firearms training” etc. Having no license, I suppose that made me a criminal. That day, I found an article in the paper “Local chief reports decrease in firearms applications”.
    I don’t know about the present, but at the time there were no state standards. Each department set it’s own rules about issuance.
    While living in Mass, I had several guns stolen. I reported it to the police and gave the detective a list with serial numbers. I was naïve enough to ask if they might be recovered. The detective looked at the list and said “Any cop finds guns like these, you’ll never see them”. Great.

    • Mike678

      RI, at least most towns, are getting better at issuing CCLs. I’ve heard Providence is tough, which is interesting if you look at where violent crimes are being committed. It helps if the applicant is knowledgeable of the law and is patient….

      • Rhett Hardwick

        Yes, after Boston denied me I went back to the town that issued it (I won’t name it). They knew me and asked if I was still living in Boston, I admitted that I was. The officer replied “Can’t think of a better reason to have one” and issued me the license. The town took a different attitude from Boston. When I first got the license it read “protection of person and property”. My friends told me that meant it was a CCL. I went to the station to ask. The officer said “You’d look pretty funny with a holster on the outside of your suit”.

  • Christopher C. Reed

    Speaking of guns, who the heck bought that $30 billion worth of firearms sold during the administration of The One? Not to mention all the frickin’ ammo ($16B — that’s a lot of range time).
    With gun sales crashing (Remington went BK) since the election of the Big Orange, you’d think the far left would be overjoyed…But, could it be that The Deplorables™ are just all strapped up?

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