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Gun Rights Group Slams Mass. AG On Assault Weapons Crackdown

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announces a crackdown on illegal sales of assault weapons Wednesday.
Twitter: @MassAGO
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Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announces a crackdown on illegal sales of assault weapons Wednesday.

In the wake of recent shootings across the nation, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Wednesday announced a crackdown on what she says are illegal sales of assault weapons.The Democrat says her office sent notices and offered direction to the 350 gun dealers in the state about weapons she says gun manufacturers alter by removing a flash suppressor or a folding stock and market as Massachusetts compliant.

“If a gun’s operating system is essentially the same as a banned weapon or if the gun has component parts that are interchangeable with those of a banned weapon, it’s a copy,” Healey said. “It’s a duplicate and it’s illegal. Assault weapons prohibited under our laws cannot be altered in any way to make sale or possession legal in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts banned assault weapons in 1998. But, Healey says more than 10,000 were sold in the state last year and sales of some models increased 450 percent in the week after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June. Healey says the alterations do not change how the guns work.

“Doing so does nothing to address the lethality of the weapon, it elevates form over function and it is not what was intended by the important piece of legislation, our state assault weapons ban,” said Healey.

The Democrat says her office will not go after residents who bought the weapons believing they were legal. Healey says gun dealers who have these types of weapons are not allowed to sell them to Massachusetts residents, but can transfer them to states where sales are legal. She expects gun dealers to cooperate, saying she is not announcing a new law or regulation.

“They know what it is that we’re talking about,” Healey said. “They know the issue that we have when you see the nationally-sold Sig Sauer M400 that is sold in other states and is banned in Massachusetts. They know that there is no difference in terms of function between that weapon and the Sig Sauer M400 that has deemed by the manufacturer to be Massachusetts compliant.”

The president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and a number of district attorneys joined Healey in making the announcement Wednesday. Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, says all sales of these types of guns had to be approved by the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety.

“If this was the actual intent then why didn’t they after only a week or so raise a flag and say ‘Guys, you can’t do this anymore because of the laws that are in place,’” Wallace said. “They didn’t because they understood the rules just like we did. And they allowed all of these transactions to go forward. Now suddenly a political eager beaver decides she doesn’t like the rules so she’s going to change them overnight unilaterally with no input from anyone.”

GOAL is planning a rally against what it’s calling the “rogue” Massachusetts attorney general Saturday outside the State House in Boston. Healey says her office is prepared to pursue criminal or civil penalties against gun dealers who continue to sell illegal guns. GOAL is advising dealers to err on the side of caution, saying Healey’s directive, if allowed to stand, has turned thousands of lawful gun owners into “felons in waiting.”

“It’s very convoluted,” Wallace said. “It’s very loose language. It seems to actually ban any semi-automatic rifles especially — maybe shotguns and handguns, we’re not sure yet — that takes a detachable magazine. Which is completely not what the so-called assault weapons ban was all about. So this is a new interpretation, regardless of what she [Healey] says, of an existing law on rules that have been in place for 18 years. And it is causing absolute chaos across the state.”

In addition, a petition asking Republican Governor Charlie Baker to overturn Healey’s decision garnered more than 17,000 signatures as of Thursday. The governor’s office has indicated support for Healey’s actions. Meanwhile, there have been reports of people rushing to gun stores since Healey’s announcement.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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