What is HD.4420? Here’s what the popular protest signs are about

Sep 24, 2023

Driving around Dartmouth, it’s difficult to avoid the identical red and white signs planted across front yards and open spaces, all with the words “Protect the 2nd Amendment” and “Stop Bill HD.4420” sprawled across them. 

The signs, which are distributed by the Massachusetts gun rights advocacy group Gun Owners Action League, oppose “An Act Modernizing Firearm Laws,” or House Docket 4420, a 142-page sweeping gun control bill drafted in June by state Rep. Michael Day from Stoneham.

The Gun Owners Action League, which chooses to call the bill the “Lawful Citizens Imprisonment Act,” has distributed the opposition signs throughout the summer via firearm stores and training facilities. 

Brock Cordeiro, a Dartmouth resident who serves on the Republican State Committee for the Second Bristol and Plymouth State Senate District, said the signs are popular simply because the bill is not. 

He said the legislation presented is “convoluted” and would potentially criminalize legal gun owners.

“I think that’s why you’re seeing a lot of these signs, it’s just gun owners who want to do the right legal thing are just anywhere from being confused to fed up,” Cordeiro said. “I’ve seen college syllabi with less requirements.”

State Rep. Chris Markey said he expects the bill to change significantly if it does move forward, but he does not support “the version that’s been introduced so far,” as it’s not “practical.” He’d like for a much more “refined” bill to make its way through the legislature. 

“I was against it before any signs popped up,” Markey said. “I expressed that to the leadership and [Rep.] Day as well.”

A large focus of the new bill is cracking down on “ghost guns,” or untraceable firearms without serial numbers that can be assembled from parts. To that effect, the bill would require more parts of the gun to be serialized. 

Cordeiro singled out this section as a provision he is “sympathetic” to, but said much of the bill is confusing and a “hodgepodge way of going about it.”

“It’s such overreaching, it’s so vague in so many places — are people that are legal gun owners today … going to be illegal gun owners tomorrow?”, Cordeiro said. 

Rep. Markey likewise said the sections on ghost guns make sense to him, along with another section cracking down on shooting a firearm at a dwelling.

One of the most controversial sections of the bill states that, in addition to schools, colleges, universities, public buildings and polling places, carrying any firearms on private property where the owner has not given consent is prohibited. 

Rep. Markey said this section in particular may be problematic, and not necessarily consistent with the second amendment. 

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law in New York last year. 

HD.4420 would also create a database that can track guns used in crimes or taken by law enforcement, and another section would increase punishments for not reporting lost or stolen firearms to the police. Moreover, the bill would define and redefine many terms related to firearms, including what qualifies as an “assault-style” weapon or a large magazine. 

Cordeiro pointed out that Massachusetts already has some of the strictest gun control measures in the country. 

Advocates of strict gun control, including the Massachusetts chapter of Everytown for Gun Safety, point to the state’s laws as a reason for its low gun violence rates. In 2021, the state had the lowest rate of firearm deaths per capita, according to the latest National Center for Health statistics. 

In a statement from Everytown for Gun Safety about HD.4420, a volunteer was quoted as saying: “The Commonwealth has long been a national example of how strong gun safety laws work – today we renew our commitment in tackling gun violence at its core.”

Cordeiro said GOAL’s labeling of the act as the “Lawful Citizens Imprisonment Act” may be hyperbolic, but he is concerned that firearms that were legal for decades could now be made illegal by the new legislation. 

Thor Oliver, president of the Rod and Gun Club of New Bedford, located in Dartmouth, said that the bill is convoluted, at times redundant, and potentially problematic for legal gun owners. Oliver said that he’d encourage citizens to call their representatives about the legislation and “tell them how awful this bill is and how they should not pass it in any form,” though Oliver said he was speaking as a private citizen rather than a representative of the gun club. 

The bill has been in the Senate committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security since July.