Healey clears gun buyers
AG may still go after dealers for sales of banned assault weapons
ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY decided to allow those who bought nearly 2,300 assault weapons in Massachusetts to keep their new guns even though they were purchased after she ordered the sales stopped. But Healey has not backed away from her threat to levy criminal or civil sanctions against dealers who sold one of the banned assault weapons in defiance of her declaration that the “copycat” semi-automatic rifles are illegal under a 1998 state law.
“Our enforcement notice on Wednesday was very clear that it was effective immediately,” Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey, said in a statement. “Gun dealers and manufacturers in Massachusetts are now on notice and our office will be watching for illegal sales of these copycat assault weapons. In light of the fact that many people apparently acted in the belief that they had until the end of the day on Wednesday to buy these weapons, our office will not take enforcement action under state law with regard to any transactions made by individual purchasers acting in good faith that were finalized on Wednesday, July 20.”
Healey’s announcement Wednesday triggered a gun-buying frenzy with gun enthusiasts flooding the state’s dealers to purchase more than 2,500 rifles, including 2,251 that Healey’s office says are defined as one of the banned assault weapons. She had said those who already owned or sold the guns prior to her order would not be subject to sanctions. There was apparent confusion as to when her order took effect, even though her statement and press conference said purchases and sales made “prior to July 20, 2016” would be exempt from the order.
Gov. Charlie Baker said he supports Healey’s decision and deferred to her as the arbiter to interpret the law. But he called on Healey to clarify her position so “law-abiding” gun owners can make sure they are not in violation of the statute.
But Healey is facing another potential dilemma. On Thursday, rifle sales dropped back to 266 in the state but more than half of those – 143 – appear to be the banned assault weapon types, although there are some exceptions. A spokeswoman said the office would be examining the sales to see if they are outside her order. The law calls for jail time up to two years and possible loss of license for those violating the ban.
Healey said she was taking the action because of the proliferation of such guns being used in spree shootings around the country and because of inaction by Congress in getting what she termed “weapons of war” off the streets. She said her decision is not a new law or interpretation but rather more rigid enforcement of the statute that specifically bans AK-47s and AR-15s as well as “copiers or duplicates.” She claims gun manufacturers make cosmetic or minor changes to copycats and declare the rifles are “Massachusetts compliant,” which she said is untrue.
Gun owners and dealers are planning a rally at the State House for Saturday morning, when the Legislature meets in a rare weekend session as the term comes to a close, in an effort to push lawmakers to overrule Healey and tighten up the language that classifies some single-shot rifles as assault weapons.(Clarification: This story and headline have been updated to more accurately reflect the Attorney General’s position.)