As debate over gun control wears on, more and more South Shore residents are getting licensed

In 20 communities south of Boston, the number of licenses issued from 2013 to 2018 was almost 50 percent higher than the number issued in the six years prior.

In 2009, 10 people were issued gun licenses in Hull, a town with a population of a little more than 10,000.

By 2017, the number of licenses issued in the town had shot up to 109.

Hull isn’t alone. Across two presidential administrations representing both parties, endless gun control debates and countless mass shootings, more and more people on the South Shore have sought gun licenses.

In 20 communities south of Boston, the number of licenses issued from 2013 to 2018 was almost 50 percent higher than the number issued in the six years prior.

Hull doubled the number of licenses issued in that period, while Holbrook and Randolph gun licenses increased by 71 percent and 65 percent, respectively.


The state doesn’t track the number of individual guns in each community, but it does track legal gun sales, which have also been on the rise. An average of 109,442 firearms were sold in the state per year from 2013 to 2018, a 57 percent increase over the prior six years, when an average 63,204 guns were sold per year.

Jim Wallace, executive director of the Massachusetts Gun Owners’ Action League, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, said he’s noticed the jump.

“We’ve seen an increase in people taking (state-mandated) training and people asking us to put on programming across the state,” Wallace said. “Especially with women who see (gun ownership) as empowerment and good for self-defense.”

Wallace said he isn’t sure why more people are interested in getting licenses, but thinks self-defense plays a big part.

“You see it every day in the news … all kinds of assaults,” he said.

Eric Goldman, president of the Braintree Rifle and Pistol Club, said politics — and whether the political party in power favors gun rights or gun control — plays a major role in whether people decide to get a gun.

“I think having Democrats in the White House kind of scared everyone. … Our membership increased during those years at the club,” Goldman said. “I think the reason for that is that whenever there’s something that happens and there’s discussion about limiting ownership of firearms, be it assault rifles or any type of firearm, people get concerned and tend to go get their permits because they might be afraid that they then can’t get them in the next few years.”

Despite his observation about the role of politics, Goldman said his club’s membership has jumped in the three years since the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, who supports gun rights and was endorsed by the NRA. Goldman said the club has almost 6,500 members.

The growing interest in guns in Massachusetts comes despite state gun laws that are considered to be some of the strictest in the county. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives the state’s gun laws an A- grade, for example.

Proponents of the state’s restrictive gun laws point to the state’s low rate of gun violence compared to other states. Massachusetts tied for last in 2017, the latest year for which data is available, for rates of gun death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That year, 262 people were killed by guns in the state.

Ruth Zakarin, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, said legal gun ownership is a complex issue for an organization like hers. On the one hand, she said, they don’t want to penalize legal gun owners, but on the other, they don’t “want to have so many guns in circulation.”

“Ultimately, we want to make sure that people are safe, people are responsible, that the appropriate procedures are being followed,” Zakarin said. “Ninety-seven percent of the licenses that are applied for are granted. So it’s not like (current laws) in place now to keep things safe are significantly reducing people’s ability to get a gun license.”

Wallace sees the increasing number of gun licenses in Massachusetts as a slow return to how things were before a major legislative overhaul of gun laws in 1998 banned large-capacity magazines and made obtaining a license more difficult. He said there were more than 1.2 million licensed gun owners in the state before the legislation and a little more than 200,000 after.

There were more than 433,000 active licenses in the state last year, or about 62 gun licenses per 1,000 people, based on U.S. census estimates for 2018. Eight communities south of Boston had fewer licenses per capita: Milton (38.2), Quincy (40.3), Braintree (42.6), Weymouth (39), Randolph (47.2), Hingham (47.7), Hull (44.6) and Cohasset (46).

Towns farther south had many more licenses per capita, with Carver the highest at 138.6 licenses per 1,000 people, followed by Halifax (110.6), Pembroke (105.5), Kingston (104.4), Plymouth (94.6), Marshfield (92.4), Hanover (82.5) and Rockland (78.8).

Carver Police Chief Marc Duphily said his department processes a fair number of applications each year, and that his officers get asked about it regularly.

“We take it very seriously, and we help people exercise their second amendment right,” Duphily said

Peter Tache, owner of M&M Plimoth Bay Outfitters in Plymouth, said interest in gun ownership tends to come in cycles, with national politics playing a huge role.

Despite the increase in licenses, Tache said sales have been slow at his store in the past few years in what he calls the “Trump Slump” — although he acknowledges that online retail sales have also taken a bite out of his business.

Tache said sales went up around the last presidential election when people expected a victory for Democrat Hillary Clinton, who promised to strengthen gun control laws, and he expects the market to heat up again around the next election.

He said reactions to mass shootings also can affect the demand for guns.

“After the shooting at Sandy Hook, things went crazy,” Tache said. “People were worried they weren’t going to be able to get guns anymore.”

The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012 ended with the death of 20 young children and prompted a passionate national debate about gun laws. The next year, 2013, was the biggest year for gun licenses issued in most South Shore towns, state data shows.

Tache said his shelves were bare after the shooting and the industry took a few months to recover and get stores restocked.

He said gun ownership can also have a ripple effect, with one person’s purchase of a gun often encouraging friends and family to follow suit.

“People go shooting, they have fun, they then bring their friends along,” Tache said.

*see full story by The Patriot Ledger