Healey triggers gun-buying frenzy

2,500 assault weapons sold in one day in defiance of AG’s order

A GUN-BUYING FRENZY that resulted in 2,500 assault weapons being purchased Wednesday – one-fourth the total sold all of last year – has forced Attorney General Maura Healey into threatening dealers with criminal penalties and the loss of their licenses for trying to beat her crackdown on the rifles.

According to data from the state Firearms Records Bureau, gun enthusiasts bought 2,549 rifles on Wednesday, the same day Healey announced that her office would rigidly enforce a 1998 law that prohibits the sale of specific semi-automatic guns such as AK-47s and AR-15s, as well as “copies or duplicates of the weapons.” By contrast, 132 of the guns were sold on Tuesday and just 51 on Monday. About 10,000 of the guns were sold in 2015.

The purchases were in defiance of an order issued by Healey that none of the guns could be sold in Massachusetts after Tuesday. Now Healey, whose intent was to get rid of the weapons, finds herself in the awkward position of trying to undo a run on what she has called “weapons of war” after they’ve already been sold.

While Healey’s office remained silent on what would happen to those who bought the guns Wednesday, her spokeswoman said dealers could face criminal or civil sanctions for the sales. The statute calls for up to two years in jail for selling the banned guns.

The key issue is when Healey’s order took effect. In a directive made to the state’s 350 gun dealers on Tuesday she ordered them to cease selling the weapons “immediately.” At her press conference announcing the directive on Wednesday, she said none of the weapons could be sold after Tuesday. Her spokeswoman, however, said on Thursday that the attorney general’s directive took effect at the time of her announcement, presumably on Wednesday. (Healey also wrote about her new policy in an op-ed in the Boston Globe that appeared online on Tuesday and ran in the Wednesday paper.)

Healey said she was stepping up because of the scores of spree shootings that have killed dozens of people around the country. Surrounded by clergy, victims’ families, police chiefs, and prosecutors, she made the passionate plea to rid the state of the assault weapons like those used in the slaughter of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut, 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, and the killings of five Dallas police officers and three more in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Healey claims gun manufacturers make minor or cosmetic changes to the guns while maintaining the same functions and then market them as “Massachusetts compliant.” She said the directive was not a new rule or even a change but just an enforcement of the 18-year-old statute that she says has been abused by manufacturers.

“The gun industry doesn’t get to decide what’s compliant,” she said when making her announcement. “We do.”

She said people who purchased the rifles prior to her order would be able to keep them and no dealers would be prosecuted if they sold them before then.

Christopher Pinto, president of the advocacy group Massachusetts Gun Rights, Inc., of Worcester, claimed he bought an AR-15 for his wife on Wednesday to beat Healey’s directive and insisted he intends to keep it.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

“What is she going to do, come to my house and get it?“ asked Pinto, who was in Cleveland as a delegate at the Republican National Convention.

A group of gun owners gathered at the State House Thursday evening to protest Healey’s action, with another rally planned on Saturday when the Legislature is in session. Many said Healey’s decision was not an enforcement of the law but rather stemmed from her interpretation based on what they say is her anti-gun stance. Most in attendance said they own the types of rifles Healey says are illegal. Even though she said she won’t take action against those who bought them before Wednesday, the protesters said they were concerned she could change her mind and arbitrarily confiscate their weapons in the future.

“The system is set up to debate and we can have due process,” said Archie Taylor, 45, of Dracut. “It’s not anybody’s right to tell us what we can protect ourselves with. Police and other law enforcement officials can have these guns but a private citizen can’t? Everyone is human, everyone is fallible. What makes them any more special than us?”