56 lawmakers to Healey: Back down

Object to Healey gun directive, its implementation

What follows is a letter 56 House and Senate lawmakers sent to Attorney General Maura Healey on Saturday and released to the press on Sunday. The lead signers were the Republican leaders from the House and Senate.

We are writing to express our strong concerns about your decision to issue an Enforcement Notice relative to the sale and possession of firearms that are deemed to be “copies” or ‘duplicates” of guns banned under the state’s assault weapons law.

We are particularly concerned that your Enforcement Notice was issued unilaterally, with very little, if any, advance notice for licensed gun dealers and lawful gun owners to adequately prepare for this new interpretation of the 1998 assault weapons law.

For the last 18 years, the law has been implemented and enforced consistently, both by your office and your predecessors. Your new directive, which has been presented by your office as nothing more than a closing of “loopholes” in the current law, appears in fact to be much more than that: the enforcement of a whole new law that unfairly infringes on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners in Massachusetts.

An e-mail sent by your office to the Legislature on July 21 — one day after the directive was issued — states that, “For many years, the gun industry has been marketing and selling what they describe as ‘Massachusetts compliant’ assault weapons, despite the fact that these guns are actually banned under existing state law.” If, in fact, these guns were actually banned under the 1998 law, then why has there been no prosecutorial action taken by your office or your two predecessors as Attorney General over the last two decades? What, exactly, has changed that led to your determination that these weapons were banned and being sold illegally all these years?

We believe your directive raises far more questions than it answers. On your website, for example, you acknowledge that there is not a list of weapons that are banned under state law, but suggest that your office “will work with gun dealers, as necessary, to help them identify the guns that meet one or both of the tests of a copy or duplicate.” Licensed dealers and gun owners are rightfully concerned about the ambiguity of the directive and the possibility that they could inadvertently violate its terms and thereby subject themselves to substantial penalties, including fines, imprisonment and license revocation.

Furthermore, in providing guidance on the application of the Enforcement Notice to licensed gun dealers and individual gun owners, you have indicated that your office “reserves the right to alter or amend this guidance.” Given the confusion surrounding the most recent changes you announced this week, one can only assume that any future amendments would cause similar uncertainty and confusion, particularly if the interpretation of the law can change on a moment’ s notice without first being subject to an adequate vetting process.

We want to be clear that we are not opposed to revisiting the state’s gun laws periodically to ensure that they are up-to-date and being properly enforced. In fact, the original assault weapons ban has undergone a number of revisions since its initial passage, most recently in 2014. However, we believe strongly that any such review should be accompanied by a rigorous debate of the Legislature, with full public input, before any changes are made to ensure that lawful gun owners have a clear understanding of the law and how it will be enforced.

We must therefore object in the strongest possible terms to both the substance of your actions and the manner in which you arrived at and implemented your decision. We thank you in advance for your consideration of our concerns, and hope you will reconsider your position and rescind your July 20, 2016, Enforcement Notice.

If you would like to discuss this issue with us, we would be happy to arrange a time convenient to your schedule.