Mayor Setti Warren is active in trying to close a loophole in the state’s 1998 ban on the sale of assault weapons. He recently led a group of 19 Massachusetts mayors supporting Attorney General Maura Healey’s efforts to more fully enforce that law. Gun manufacturers and dealers have been getting around the ban by making small modifications that make the weapons legal but not less lethal. As Healy announced on July 21, she intends to prevent that practice through stricter enforcement of the existing law — for weapons sold on or after July 21.
So how many — if any — assault weapons are there in Newton? It’s not clear, since we have information only about licenses and permits in general. Last March, the TAB ran an article about police chiefs’ discretion over granting permits to carry guns in their cities and towns. Citing the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services, the article said that in Newton, there are 1,451 active Licenses to Carry “large-capacity” firearms, which Massachusetts defines as “a semi-automatic handgun or rifle that is capable of accepting more than ten rounds, OR is a semi-automatic shotgun capable of accepting more than five shotgun shells, OR is an assault weapon.” Per capita, Newton’s number of Licenses to Carry is about one-third the statewide average. (The TAB noted that among the 1,451 licenses in Newton are “nine permits allowing residents to possess a machine gun,” which by law are available only to firearms instructors of police personnel or to bona fide firearms collectors.)
It’s not clear how many weapons — and of what type — are associated with these 1,451 licenses and permits. The state tracks licenses and gun sales, but not gun ownership. There’s no registry for guns, as there is for motor vehicles. A police department can search online for people who at some point bought certain types of guns legally, but these transaction lists do not indicate current ownership — and they do not include guns brought in by people moving into the state or acquiring guns illegally. In denying a public-records request for the number and breakdown of guns registered to current residents of Lexington, the state said that current registration information is just not available.
So as we say on Village 14, “How are the streets in your neighborhood?”