This Moment in Chicanery: Electricity Marketplace Bait and Switch

Saturday, April 24, 2021

I learned two things from a recent (April 9) letter to my wife and me from a fund administrator for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:  I don't know the first thing about buying electricity, and our attorney general looks out for dopes like me.

"Thank you for being a valued customer of Starion Energy," the letter said.  "On August 18, 2020, Starion Energy entered into a final judgment by consent with the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General (the 'AGO').  The final judgment resolves the AGO's claims that Starion Energy, Inc. ('Starion') did not comply with certain provisions of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection laws in the course of marketing and selling Starion's electricity supply.  Although Starion denied the claims by the AGO, Starion has nevertheless agreed to establish a fund for the benefit of certain of its current and former customers."

The letter further said, "The Independent Administrator who administers the Fund has determined that you are eligible to receive reimbursement for a portion of what you have paid to Starion Energy for electricity supply services and/or fees.  Accordingly, enclosed is a check in the amount that the Administrator has determined is appropriate."

That check was for $263.33.  

We cashed it right away.  

Then I proceeded to find out why they sent us the dough. 

Online, I found a copy of a March 5 press release from AG Maura Healey's office announcing that customers of Starion were beginning to receive restitution payments as part of a settlement of allegations that it had used "unfair and deceptive sales tactics to lure more than 100,000 Massachusetts customers into expensive contracts with high electricity rates." 

These customers were collectively charged "millions more on their bills than they would have paid if they stayed with their utility company," the release said.

Healey was quoted thusly, "This company falsely promised thousands of Massachusetts customers big savings on their electricity bills, but instead overcharged them...We're glad to be returning more than $7 million to customers harmed by Starion's deceptive tactics."

The release cited a 2018 lawsuit accusing Starion, a company headquartered in Middlebury, CT, of violating Massachusetts consumer protection laws "by engaging in unfair sales tactics, including unsolicited telemarketing calls and pre-recorded robocalls that falsely promised customers lower electricity rates."

I asked my wife, "Do you remember our switching to this company?"

"Vaguely," she said. "A few years ago, I think it was, I spoke with a salesperson a couple of times who was saying how much money we could save on electricity."

"We must have talked it over then, but I can't remember that talk," I said.

She said, "You said something like, 'If we can save a few bucks, why not?' "

I said, "Do you remember what happened to our bills after switching?"

"The best I can recall, they went down for three or four months, then started going up," she said. "Before long, they were as high, if not higher, than before. I just figured, there's no beating the system."

"By the way," she added, "did you ever give electricity bills another thought?"

"Not once," I had to admit.

"How surprising," she said.

On the day we were having this conversation, there happened to be a letter in the pile of mail on our kitchen table from a different energy supplier offering to sell us electricity for three years at a guaranteed price of 10.99 cents per kilowatt hour.  

In a stab at being serious about our personal finances, I emailed a friend who knows a lot about electricity prices on account of his job.

"Is 10.99 cents a KW hour for three years a good deal, a smart move?" I wrote.

"I'm not a big fan of competitive supply options," he wrote back, "because the onus is on you to have to remember, and pursue, when your contract is up.  By contrast, your local municipal aggregator of electricity purchasers offers the same basic idea as a competitive supplier, without the mailings -- and with the bargaining power of more load-users, taking the need to do all the research off your shoulders.  As a result, what your aggregator is offering may not be the 'best' deal on the market at any particular time, but it usually involves less stress."

Yesterday, taking my friend's lead, I visited the website of the City of Melrose and filled out a form to enroll us as subscribers in the "Local Green" default (or standard) product offered by Melrose Community Power.  At the moment I enrolled, this product was priced at 10.521 cents per kilowatt hour.  

There was a feel-good aspect to the decision: at least 5% of the power we'll consume this way will always come from renewable sources.


MA Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO on Chauvin Conviction: 'Much Work Needs to Be Done'

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Today, many organizations in Massachusetts issued statements on the conviction yesterday of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd.  All were good and worthwhile.  And one of the best came from Andrew Dreyfus, president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and a veteran of the Michael Dukakis administration.  

Dreyfus's statement was directed primarily at the company's 3,700 employees.  Here it is in its entirety:

"Many of us today are reflecting on the guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd.  For the past week, our board member Quincy Miller noted, 'it has felt like our very humanity was on trial.'  In the end, Mr. Floyd's humanity was recognized.  His life mattered.

"And his death mattered.  Mr. Floyd's senseless killing, at the hands of a police officer sworn to protect him, spurred outrage and anguish in America, as well as vital dialogue and action.

"One verdict does not mark victory in a long fight for justice and accountability, but I hope it does mark progress in a battle that will continue.  We know we can only begin to heal as a nation if we act together to address racism and injustice.

"Our company is committed to racial justice and committed to doing the hard work of healing.  We are confronting the crisis of racial health inequities and working to create a more equitable health care system, especially for people of color.  We are supporting Black and Brown leaders in our community, including organizations focused on police reform.  Working together, we can begin to put an end to inequities.

"Much work remains to be done, in our company and in our community.

"Here at Blue Cross, we will continue our dialogues on racial equity and prejudice, including at next month's Company Connect and in June when, for the first time as a company, we mark Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery.

"Racial injustice and bias bring pain and fear to members of our own community, and I have been proud to see our associates support each other and show solidarity.  Today, I encourage you to connect with others -- check on colleagues, reach out if you are feeling hurt.  We can take strength from our common values of respect, dignity, and equity for all."

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has nearly three million members.  Dreyfus has been a part of the organization's executive team since 2005 and its president/CEO since 2010.  Before that, he served for years in the leadership of the Massachusetts Hospital Association (MHA).

I got to know him back in the last century when working in public relations for community hospitals. I served for a spell on an MHA committee dealing with public affairs, which he staffed, and have since bumped into him occasionally at the State House or on a downtown sidewalk -- meetings all too rare for my liking.

If you ever want to encounter a truly upright human being, if you ever want (or need) the experience of being unmistakably in the presence of goodness, seek an encounter with Andrew Dreyfus.  


Massachusetts Has Billions of Reasons to Be Grateful to Uncle Sam

Sunday, April 11, 2021

There's a Chinese proverb that says, "When you drink from the stream, remember the spring."

Pondering that ancient wisdom, I find myself asking: post-pandemic, will we in Massachusetts -- and our counterparts in the 49 other states of the union -- ever remember all that our federal government did to secure our lives and our standard of living in 2020 and in 2021?

If I were a betting man, I'd bet no. We certainly will not remember.

I believe that another proverb, reputedly an Irish one, holds sway in this situation; it says, "Eaten bread is soon forgotten."

And that is a shame.  

When we finally get our lives back to normal in these divided states of America, we will need a sustained swelling of collective gratitude. There will be no better way to leach the venom from our politics, rebuild the spirit of the nation, and begin the no-longer-avoidable process of truly uniting (and treating equitably) all Americans. 

Let's turn to a select few of the more recent reasons why we in the Bay State should thank God we had a federal government to fall back upon when all was cracking and folding in Massachusetts under the attack of the coronavirus...

According to a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation analysis of the Biden administration's recently enacted American Rescue Plan (ARP), Massachusetts will receive $4.5 billion in flexible Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds, "as well as billions in targeted assistance for programs closely linked to budget line items."

That targeted assistance will include $1.8 billion to support public schools, $1 billion to keep the MBTA and regional transit authorities operating, $510 million for early child care, $450 million for emergency rental and foreclosure assistance, $174.4 million for programs created under a new Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, and $150 million "to support the state's public health workforce."

There's more!

The ARP, for example, is expected to deliver $3.4 billion directly to municipal governments throughout Massachusetts, ensuring the continuation of vital local services and the jobs and paychecks of tens of thousands of municipal employees.

And, in a significant development apart from the ARP, the Biden administration has extended a federal public health emergency, which will lead to federal dollars covering most of a massive shortfall that otherwise would have occurred in MassHealth/Medicaid. the health coverage program for approximately 1.7 million residents.

I understand anyone who rejects the be-grateful-to-Uncle-Sam argument.  

People can legitimately say, This is my government, this is what it is supposed to do in a crisis, and, anyway, we the public are going to have to pay eventually for the borrowing of the trillions in federal aid we are rapidly consuming.

But I'll never buy that.

Too conveniently, too self-servingly, that kind of thinking ignores the simple good luck that has made us all Americans, by birth or immigration, and thus eligible to partake of the fruits of the world's largest economy and its most trusted currency.   

I'm so far into the other corner that I'll jump on the bandwagon of the first politician to propose that, starting next year, we make October 1, the first day of the federal fiscal year, an official day of remembrance, "Federal Government Appreciation Day," on which we stop and ponder how bad things could have been, how desperate we and our families could have become, if our government couldn't, or wouldn't, have borrowed our way out of this crisis.

UPDATE, 4-30-21:  According to tabulations by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Massachusetts has received more federal relief aid, per capita, during the COVID-19 national emergency than all but two states and the District of Columbia.  The top five per capita amounts recipients are: Washington, D.C., $12,845; New York, $10,881; Vermont, $10,340; Massachusetts, $9,893; North Dakota, $9,844.  Summarizing the foundation's report on this subject, the State House News Service on April 26 wrote: "As of April 15, Massachusetts had received $69.19 billion in federal assistance dating back to the start of the pandemic, which the foundation said was the 11th most of any state.  About $20.5 billion of that came in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans, and another $11.36 billion was for federal pandemic unemployment compensation."


Never Thought I'd See This: Newspapers Dying, MA Legislators Want to Help

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

As part of a recently enacted economic development bill, An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, a special legislative commission will shortly be established to look at how some communities are now "underserved by local journalism," and what may be done to improve that situation.   

I think the legislature could have come up with a better way to describe the problem.  We're talking here about the widespread die-off of local, independent newspapers due to the loss of advertising dollars to the internet.  "Underserved by local journalism" sounds like lazy reporters and distracted publishers may be to blame.

But I shouldn't quibble with lawmakers for choosing words the way they've always chosen them, especially when I am delighted they have taken on the issue.  

Nothing better than a good local newspaper has ever been devised to let people know what they really must about their community, and to hold the feet of the folks who run that community to the fire.  Where newspapers are professionally advanced and financially healthy, community spirit is more tangible, local politicking is more robust, and the climate for civic engagement is more favorable.

It's difficult to quantify all the ruin when a newspaper goes belly up, or when a revenue-starved paper shrinks to a shadow of its former self, turning from lightning rod to object of pity and derision.  (The actual, new term for such publications is "ghost newspapers.")  Certainly, the human toll is enormous.

Since 2000, newspaper employment has dropped by 60%.  That's a higher percentage than all the jobs lost in coal mining over the last 30 years.

In a Jan. 1, 2020, report on PBS News Hour, Charles Sennot observed, "When we lose 30,000 reporting jobs, as we have in the last 10 years, what we lose is the ability for us to have a shared set of facts on a local level, and for us to have a civic debate on the local level.  And I think we're seeing a fraying of communities as well."  

Two North Shore Democrats, Senator Brendan Crighton of Lynn and Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, led the call for government to do something to fortify local journalism, first by introducing a stand-alone bill on the matter, which got stalled in the legislature, and then by ensuring that a version of the bill would be incorporated into the voluminous, multi-purpose economic development bill, which was passed on the last day of the 2019-20 legislative session, Jan. 5, 2021, and signed into law by Governor Baker nine days later.

In an interview afterward with the Lynn Item, Ehrlich said, "A lack of local news coverage is a fundamental threat to our democracy and civic society.  Citizens rely on hardworking journalists to tell the stories that bind us together as communities.  Trusted news sources provide a public square where shared facts and thoughtful opinion enable us to hold power to account and govern ourselves."

Ehrlich added, "With this commission, the Commonwealth will facilitate a serious discussion among experts, reporters and industry members about the state of local news in Massachusetts, and what fortification efforts can take place."

Also speaking with the Lynn Item, Crighton said, "Now, more than ever, we need a strong and robust news media to keep our citizenry as informed as possible and to ensure accountability."


I do not have much of a concept of what this commission can actually do to halt and/or reverse the seemingly inexorable diminution of local reporting, but I dearly hope it can accomplish something.

I started my working life as a newspaper reporter for a small daily, the Chelsea Record, and stayed with the trade for more than a dozen years.  My final news job was managing editor of the Malden Evening News.  That was a good place and a good time to be in local journalism.  We had six full-time reporters covering the City of Malden, all paid a livable, union wage.  The Malden Evening News and its affiliated publications, the Medford Daily Mercury and the Melrose Evening News, employed more than 70 persons at their peak.  Three bargaining units represented the interests of the majority of those workers: the Newspaper Guild, the Typesetters and Compositors, and the Pressmen's unions.   As journalists, we were far from perfect, but we covered the community vigorously and as fairly as possible, and in a way it is no longer covered.  My old outfit, after years of slow decline and a spell as a ghost newspaper, closed for good several years ago.

Back in the late-1970s, the newspaper business was so good that the principal owner-publisher of the Evening News/Daily Mercury group, David Brickman, moved the operation from its cramped, dingy quarters on Ferry Street, in Malden Square, to a new, larger, better equipped plant on Commercial Street, in the largest of the city's urban renewal districts.  On the marble cornerstone of that new edifice, Mr. Brickman had these words engraved: "Bulwark of Freedom."  A new owner totally remodeled and reconfigured the former home of the News-Mercury, including the main door and facade.  The cornerstone, I'm pretty sure, was tossed into a dumpster.  We should hope that its fate was not premonitory. 




This Moment in Corruption: AG Settles False, Inflated Billing Cases

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Since 2016, the office of Attorney General Maura Healey has successfully prosecuted three home health agencies and their owners for defrauding MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program, and has settled civil actions against nine home health agencies similarly accused of improper billing.

During federal fiscal year 2020 alone, AG Healey's Medicaid Fraud Division recovered more than $45 million from companies and individuals participating in the MassHealth system, which provides health care coverage to approximately 23% of the Massachusetts populace.

In ongoing efforts in this vein, AG Healey announced this past Thursday that her office had reached a settlement with a Lawrence-based home health care company and its owner that resolved allegations of falsely billing MassHealth for services "not properly authorized by a physician."

The AG reported that Lifod Home Health Care LLC  and the company's chief executive, Kariuki Kimungu, will pay $1.25 million to resolve allegations that, since May 1, 2015, "they knowingly submitted false claims to MassHealth and managed care entities administering services to MassHealth members for unauthorized home health" care.

"This kind of illegal conduct takes funds away from MassHealth, which provides critical health care to low-income and vulnerable residents across the state," said Healey.  "We are committed to combatting fraud, waste, and abuse in the home health industry and will continue to take action against companies that don't abide by state laws and regulations."

To bill MassHealth for home health services, a provider must ensure that the member's physician has reviewed and signed a plan of care certifying that home health services are medically necessary.  Home health agencies are required to maintain patient care records for at least six years after the medical services are provided and claims have been presented for payment.  The AG's Office alleged that Lifod billed for services "for which it did not have valid, signed plans of care..."

In addition to the financial payment, the settlement also included a requirement that Lifod "...operate under a multi-year compliance program, overseen by an independent compliance reviewer.  That program will include updated policies and procedures, new training for staff, and yearly audits conducted by the reviewer."

The AG maintains a broad focus to ensure that private entities doing business with the Commonwealth do not take advantage of the public purse.  

This past Monday, for example, the AG's office announced that a consulting company doing business in multiple states reached a civil settlement of allegations that it had inflated bills on public works projects in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Under that settlement, V.J. Associates, Inc. of New England and an affiliated company, VJ Associates,  agreed to pay back $1.8 million, with $195,871 going to Massachusetts.

A press release from the office stated that the investigation began after a whistleblower, a former employee of VJ Associates, filed a complaint under the Massachusetts False Claims Act, which allows individuals to file civil actions on behalf of the government and share in any recovered proceeds.

VJ Associates provided cost estimating and scheduling services as subcontractors on more than 100 public works projects throughout the Commonwealth.  

AG Healey's investigation "revealed that VJ Associates was engaged in an overbilling scheme in which it would routinely inflate hours worked on projects paid on an hourly basis," the press release said.  "Under pressure from management, employees openly discussed and described improper billing in emails as 'juicing' and 'tagging' hours in order to 'maximize' bills on government projects and not 'leave money on the table.' "

As part of this agreement, the AG reported, "VJ Associates admitted to submitting false bills and agreed to be debarred from submitting bids or being awarded any public works contracts with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or any other government entity within the state for a period of five years."

Blogster's Miscellany: Moments in Time for Galvin, Guv and Senator Ed

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

GOP GAGGING ON GALVIN'S 'GREAT DAY' THEME: Secretary of State William F. Galvin is a leader in the Democratic charge to make our temporary, expanded mail-in voting system permanent  and finds himself clashing regularly with Republicans who strongly oppose the move.  Former Andover state rep and current MA GOP Chairman Jim Lyons has said, "A permanent system where unsupervised voting is the norm, held in settings that are unsecure, is no way to ensure electoral integrity.  We hold election day for a reason, and we vote in person for a reason, and it all has to do with ensuring that the public has no doubts as to the integrity of the results."  Voting by mail was expanded for last fall's elections in response to the pandemic and should not continue once the crisis has passed, Republicans believe.  To make those changes permanent would be "inviting chaos," asserts John Paul Moran, an MIT-educated scientist and Republican who ran unsuccessfully against Democrat incumbent Seth Moulton in the Sixth Congressional District this past November.  Moran has also said "the responsibility should be with Secretary Galvin to prove that (election) fraud did not and will not happen."  Galvin does indeed have overall responsibility for ensuring fair and honest elections in Massachusetts.  His record demonstrates that he has always taken that responsibility very seriously.  He is a lawyer and has been Secretary of State for 26 years; he knows more about elections than anyone alive today in Massachusetts.  When Galvin declared the Nov. 3 election "a great day for democracy in Massachusetts," that had more than superficial meaning.  Galvin told reporters on Nov. 19, while calling for the incoming Biden administration to start an obstruction of justice investigation into President Trump's calls to election officials in Michigan while votes were still being counted there: " Massachusetts, we have not had or experienced some of the problems that other states have had.  And when I say problems, the problems have not been with (our) election administrators.  The problems have been with the concerted effort by the Trump campaign to intimidate, threaten, and, in some cases, I suggest, engage in obstruction of justice with the process."  The number of Massachusetts voters who participated in the Nov. 3 election totaled 3,657,972, which was nearly 300,000 more than voted in November, 2016, the highest previous total before that.  Expanded mail-in voting made that record-breaking participation possible.  "I am thrilled that turnout in this election exceeded even my own high expectations," Galvin said.  "Even in the midst of a global pandemic, our voters showed up in the ways that worked best for them, whether it was on election day, by mail, or during early voting."  More Massachusetts citizens voted than ever before and there was no fraud.  Shouldn't we be celebrating that fact and the local election officials in our 351 cities and towns who helped make Nov. 3 "a great day for Democracy in Massachusetts" -- a trouble-free, crime-free election?  Shouldn't we be confident all of these officials could do it again smoothly and honestly two or four years from now?  Or must we regard any future election built on the model of Nov. 3 as we would a sales pitch for time-shares in Florida, that is, with suspicion and fear, as Mr. Lyons, et al., would have it?

BAKER NEVER TELLS A CHARITY, "BUZZ OFF:"  Every year he's served as governor, Charlie Baker has had his hair buzzcut as part of the "Saving by Shaving" fundraiser for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.  The latest cut took place this past Wednesday.  As I've said before in this blog, Baker's willingness to have his enviable head of hair cut to three-eighths of an inch all over demonstrates a commendable, manly indifference to his appearance.  It also evinces a lack of vanity not normally associated with prominent figures. Some celebrities and lots of average folks participate every year in "Saving by Shaving" -- the "saving" refers to the cancer patients given new leases on life  -- but I don't recall many politicians of high rank going this route. There are many politicians we can safely say would never have their hair mostly removed, on camera, in public, for charity.  Take, for example, Baker's fellow Republican, Donald Trump, whose long swoop of artificially colored hair must require elaborate manipulation (plus clouds of hairspray) every morning to achieve just the right helmet look.  You'll never see Trump perched amiably in a hotel function room while some volunteer rushes the clippers over that creation.  Baker said after his latest buzzcut, "I know this doesn't look very good.  But it doesn't look very good for a short period of time and it grows back...It's a moment and an opportunity for those of us who, thank God, don't have cancer to understand what it might be like to have cancer and to lose all your hair and to end up in a situation where you feel a little uncomfortable about the way you look."  This year, "Saving by Shaving" is expected to raise more than $7 million dollars.  Thanks for adding a significant chunk to that sum, Governor, and for leading by example.

WHEN MARKEY SAVED A TRUTH-TELLER:  The New York Times published a lengthy obituary on Allan McDonald, an engineer for Morton-Thiokol who tried unsuccessfully to delay the launch of the space shuttle Challenger on the fateful morning of Jan. 28, 1986, ["Allan McDonald Dies at 83; Tried to Stop the Challenger Launch," 3-9-21].  The write-up contained an account of how our state's junior senator, Ed Markey, prevented the company from later demoting McDonald in apparent retaliation for handing information to a presidential commission investigating the explosion that destroyed the Challenger soon after launch and caused the deaths of all seven astronauts aboard, including, most prominently, Christa McAuliffe, a Concord, NH, schoolteacher who had grown up in Massachusetts. Markey was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time.  Because of how cold it was in Florida on the morning of the scheduled launch, McDonald, who was in charge of Morton-Thiokol's booster rocket program, was concerned that the rubber O-ring gaskets on the Challenger's booster rocket would become so stiff as to allow fuel to leak and cause an explosion.  He and another company engineer, Roger Boisjoly, argued that the launch should be postponed until the weather improved.  According to the Times, "Both Mr. McDonald and Mr. Boisjoly, who had provided internal Morton-Thiokol documents to the commission, were later punished by the company: Mr. McDonald was demoted and Mr. Boisjoly was placed on leave.  After Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts learned about their treatment, he threatened to bar Morton-Thiokol from future government contracts unless it restored the two men to their positions."  After Markey intervened, McDonald was named a company vice president and put in charge of redesigning its booster rockets.  (Boisjoly apparently chose not return to the company.)  Like millions of others, I watched on TV the launch of the Challenger.  I remember most how the camera was trained, right after the shuttle lifted off, on the faces of McAuliffe's parents, Edward and Grace Corrigan, and how their expressions changed from excited and proud to alarmed and stricken when the ship faltered, veered off course and started falling.  They were stunned, uncomprehending.  The camera lingered on them until they slowly left the bleachers where they were stationed.  It truly hurt to witness the impact of the accident upon them in real time.  

Gun Manufacturers, Sellers Once Again Owe Big Thank You to Democrats

Monday, March 8, 2021

It's no coincidence that, with Democrats now in power in Washington, gun sales are booming.  The same thing happened in 2009 when Obama moved into the White House.

More people buy guns for the first time, and existing gun owners buy more guns, when the president is a Democrat because, fearing new gun control laws are coming, they give in to the urge to get firearms while they (supposedly) still can. 

This fear is good for gun manufacturers, including those who've long made their home in the south central part of Massachusetts, an industrial cluster that owes its birth to George Washington's decision to build the arsenal of the new United States of America in Springfield, far from the reach of the British navy and army.

Springfield-based Smith & Wesson, for example, reported this past Thursday that its gun sale totals more than doubled during the three months ending January 31.  Total sales were $257.6 million in that quarter, while during the same period the year before, total sales were $127.4 million. 

Massachusetts residents get caught up in the better-get-a-gun-while-I-can frenzy as much as anyone. It doesn't seem to matter that national gun control laws with real bite never get passed.

According to the federal Department of Criminal Justice Information Services, in 2020, there were 135,641 transactions involving the sale and transfer of handguns, rifles, shotguns or machine guns by Massachusetts firearms dealers to individuals who had a valid Massachusetts firearms license.  There were 89,277 such transactions in 2019, meaning firearms sales and transfers increased 34% in one year as Massachusetts residents apparently decided there was a good chance Trump would lose the presidency and they would lose a smooth path to gun ownership.  (According to a recent article in The [Springfield] Republican newspaper, the National Sports Foundation estimated that between 40% and 60% of persons acquiring firearms in 2020 were first-time buyers.)

It's not inexpensive to acquire a gun legally, and, when you do, you're saddled with the endless legal responsibility of possessing and handling a deadly weapon in a safe manner.  

It might feel good to have something you think will protect you in a very bad situation, such as a home invasion, but it comes with (a) the  realization you're not living in a Clint Eastwood movie, and, besides, you're no Clint Eastwood, and (b) the constant worry of keeping that weapon and its ammunition away from an innocent party, such as your child or grandchild or some kid from the neighborhood who wanders into your house one day.  

You own the gun, and it owns you.

Say you decided tomorrow to get yourself one of Smith & Wesson's most popular handguns, the 9 mm M&P Shield pistol.  You'll pay $606 for the pistol, plus $37.87 in sales tax (at rate of 6.25%).  Then you'll pay $100 for a the required license to carry a firearm in Massachusetts and $100 for the required Firearms Identification Card, but, even before you get that license and card, you'll pay $125 to take the required Massachusetts Basic Firearms Safety Course, which usually consists of one session of three to four hours.  You'll be out $968.87, and you would not yet have purchased any ammo or the locked containers you'll need to store them safely at home.  And you would not have purchased a membership in an organization where you can regularly practice shooting so you'll be steady, smart and proficient when the moment comes, God forbid, that you brandish that weapon to protect you and/or your family.  (Will you ever really have the time and the dedication to become a good shot?)

My thoughts turn inevitably to the subject of buyer's remorse.

I have to believe there are a lot of people who, months or years after spending a thousand dollars or more on a handgun, look up at that thing on the top shelf of their closet in a calm moment and ask themselves, What was I thinking?