Healey clamps down on assault weapon sales

AG says manufacturers and dealers knowingly sell illegal guns in Mass.

ATTORNEY GENERAL MAURA HEALEY has drawn a line in the sand: Beginning immediately, Massachusetts gun dealers are on notice that selling a semi-automatic rifle that doesn’t comply with the state’s ban on assault weapons will result in criminal and civil penalties.

Healey made the declaration in a press conference this morning — and in an op-ed in today’s Boston Globe even though she says the law has, in fact, been on the books for 18 years. Surrounded by parents of gun victims, pastors, police, and prosecutors, Healey said gun manufacturers had been taking advantage of a “loophole” in the statute that specifically bans AK-47s, AR-15s and rifles that imitate or copy those weapons.

“Today we’re putting gun manufacturers and gun dealers on notice: We’re cracking down on the sale of illegal assault weapons,” said Healey.

Healey said over the years, manufacturers made minor revisions to the guns then marketed them to dealers as “Massachusetts compliant.”  But, she said, that was false advertising because the weapons still performed the same as the banned assault rifles, making them illegal under state law.

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

Healey’s office sent notice to 350 gun dealers around the state on Tuesday informing them of the crackdown on the law. She insisted it was not a change in the 1998 law but rather a reinforcement of what the law states. Healey said she’s had conversations with lawmakers, including Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and said she’s confident she’s upholding the legislative intent.

She said people who bought the guns believing they were legal will be allowed to keep them but any dealers who have them in stock must either send them back to the manufacturer or sell them to out-of-state dealers.

Last year, Massachusetts gun dealers sold more than 10,000 of the guns Healey says are illegal. Peter Tache, owner of M&M Outfitters in Plymouth, said his store sells many of the types of rifles identified by Healey. “All that I can,” he said.

Tach said he hadn’t received the letter yet and only heard about the directive so he couldn’t say whether he sees it as a change or a reinforcement of what’s already on the books. When asked if he plans to comply, Tache said, “We always comply with the law.”

Healey said despite criticism, the directive does not constitute a change in the law. She said gun dealers know the law and are aware of what is legal and illegal but she insisted that she would not prosecute the dealers for past sales or seek civil penalties even though the law allows for both.

Healey’s directive says copycat or duplicate weapons are illegal if the internal operating system is the same as the guns specifically named in the law or if the knock-off has components that are interchangeable with the banned weapon. She said many manufacturers make minor or cosmetic changes such as eliminating the flash suppressor or substituting and folding stock with a fixed stock, changes that do not alter the function of the weapon.

Healey said part of her motivation in enforcing the ban is the inertia in Congress to approve any new gun regulations in the wake of the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 6- and 7-year-olds were slaughtered by a deranged gunman, as well as the recent shootings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by snipers with assault rifles.

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said while he supports Healey’s effort, many of the guns used to commit crimes in Massachusetts are coming from out of state where gun laws are more lax than here. He said Congress has to step up to the plate.

“The federal lawmakers who could standardize sensible gun laws are missing in action,” he said. “They’d rather tweet their thoughts and prayers than take actions to protect the living… We don’t need to see the nation’s flag lowered again and again because a madman had access to weapons of war.”

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said he supports Healey’s push to crack down on the sales especially after learning sales of such weapons increased in the wake of mass shootings such as the massacre last month at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, when sales in Massachusetts of assault weapons similar to the gun the shooter used went up 450 percent. But Evans admitted he was under the impression the knock-offs were legal.

“You know, honestly, I was,” he said. “I think, it’s alarming to find out that since Orlando, there’s been a big rush to buy these.”

Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, who lives near some of the parents who lost children at Sandy Hook, said there is no rationale for these types of guns except profit for manufacturers. She ticked off a short list of recent mass shooting deaths to illustrate what she said is the sole purpose of assault weapons.

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.

Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown (Conn.) Action Alliance.

Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown (Conn.) Action Alliance.

“We do not live in a war zone,” Murray said. “Any weapon that can brutally murder 20 children and six educators in less than five minutes in an elementary school, or nine people at Umpqua [Oregon] Community College, or 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino, or 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, or five police officers in Dallas, or three police officers in Baton Rouge does not belong in the hands of civilians. Assault weapons of any form have one purpose: To hunt human beings.”