Andrea Campbell wants to cap gun purchases, expand assault weapons ban
AG candidate also seeks to address racial disparities through expungement
DEMOCRATIC ATTORNEY general candidate Andrea Campbell will release her first in-depth policy plan on Thursday – a gun violence prevention plan that includes a mix of enforcement of current laws and advocacy for new rules. The plan involves working with lawmakers to revise the state’s assault weapons ban to cover additional guns, imposing caps on gun purchases, cracking down on “ghost guns,” and bolstering gun safety training requirements.
“We have some of the best, most progressive gun laws in the country, but we still have work to do here,” Campbell told CommonWealth.
Campbell, a former Boston city councilor, is facing attorneys Quentin Palfrey and Shannon Liss-Riordan in the Democratic primary. None of the candidates so far have in-depth issues pages published, though Palfrey has an overview of his positions on topics including gun laws. (Palfrey also sent out an email with gun-related stances that included regulating ghost guns, holding manufacturers accountable, and working with other states.)
Campbell takes a dual approach to addressing gun violence, cracking down more harshly on certain gun crimes, while simultaneously funding gun violence prevention programs and addressing disparities that result in more prosecutions of Black men. She said the attorney general needs to be creative about “ways to break cycles of violence.”
She wants to craft regulations to crack down on “ghost guns,” untraceable guns that can be built at home, and use existing laws to prosecute people who sell ghost gun parts and 3-D printed weapons online.
Gary Klein, a consultant for the Violence Policy Center who previously worked in Attorney General Maura Healey’s office and helped Campbell develop her platform, said while federal policy now restricts the sale of ghost guns, “the federal government is not going to deal with guns that have already been manufactured in Massachusetts, or necessarily be able to enforce the ban on a nationwide basis.”
Soon after she was elected, Healey controversially interpreted the provision of the state’s assault weapons ban on “copycat” assault weapons to include weapons that are similar to those specifically listed in statute but with small changes. Campbell said she would build on Healey’s work by continuing to enforce the law this way, but also working with lawmakers to identify additional guns that are evading the assault weapons ban and to classify guns going forward based on their lethal characteristics rather than their brand.
Klein, who worked on Healey’s assault weapons policy, said the problem that persists is the law bans specific guns by name. There are now newer guns that act like assault weapons but are not classified that way. He said a more effective policy would define the ban based on a gun’s features – things like rate of fire, magazine capacity, or muzzle velocity.
In other areas, Campbell would go after marketing practices that appear to target buyers who perpetuate gun violence by marketing guns in differently in different communities. She would prosecute individuals when reckless conduct leads to gun theft that results in violence and would enhance enforcement of safe storage laws. She would hold gun sellers accountable for selling guns without safety features.
She wants to work with the state police to update the gun safety curriculum used to educate new gun owners. Her proposal would require “regular range certification, safety, training and a written safety test as a prerequisite for obtaining a gun license.”
“The fact that it’s easier for you to get a gun than it is a driver’s license tells us we have to remain vigilant and have to do the work of making sure we continue to have the best gun safety training possible,” Campbell said.
She would create a gun safety enforcement office within the attorney general’s office to focus on all gun-related activities – regulations, enforcement, and litigation – supported by an advisory board of experts. She would partner with community organizations that work on gun violence prevention.
Campbell would also create a program by which someone who is convicted of illegal gun possession, then demonstrates a change in their behavior, could petition a judge to have their record expunged. She said this could address racial disparities and “help folks get back on their feet to become productive members of society.”
While it may seem counterintuitive to loosen consequences while cracking down on gun crime, Klein, who supports Campbell’s candidacy, said one problem is it is often easier to buy a gun legally in a white community than a Black one, based on factors as simple as where gun stores are located, so people of color are more likely to buy guns illegally. “Andrea appropriately is considering ways to incentivize people who own illegal guns to give them up so they can move forward with their lives,” Klein said.Campbell’s gun safety focus comes after a tragic shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and two teachers, and after a US Supreme Court ruling that threatens parts of Massachusetts’ gun laws. Campbell’s plan would not directly address the court ruling.
Clarification: Palfrey’s position on guns and Healey’s actions on the assault weapons ban have been updated.