PITTSFIELD >> Well over 100 gun rights advocates and supporters turned out Friday evening for a rally at Park Square, coming to protest state Attorney General Maura Healey's move to prohibit the sale of rifles she said violate the state's assault weapons ban.
Joining the protesters, most of whom appeared to be Berkshire County residents, was Jim Wallace, director of the Gun Owners Action League, whose organization promoted what was billed a "2nd Amendment Rally."
Healey is "retroactively trying to turn people into criminals," Wallace said. The AG announced on July 20 that gun manufacturers were making slight changes to semi-automatic rifles that made them noncompliant with the state's 1998 assault weapons ban and ordered a halt to the sales.
Wallace said that has generated considerable anger among law-abiding gun owners.
"It was also the way she did it," Wallace said. "She didn't work with the [gun] industry; she didn't work with gun owners."
Wallace and others at the rally said the attorney general's announcement poses a threat for thousands of families that own the rifles and to business owners that sold a gun previously considered legal in the state.
"It was also absolutely a political move," said Wallace. "She announced it and then got to go to the Democratic convention and brag about what she did."
James Stockley, of Pittsfield, said he was at the rally "because she's taking away our rights." He said the AR-15-style rifle, which Healey said in her July 20 press conference violates the state ban, is "rarely used in crimes," especially in Massachusetts. He added that the civilian version is a semi-automatic, not a fully automatic rifle like the M-4, which is used by the military. Healey said manufacturers have been altering similar rifles to function like the AR-15, which she considers violates state law. The type of weapon, considered legal in many other states, has been used in recent years in several mass killings, including at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. After the 1994 federal ban on automatic weapons was not renewed by Congress in 2004, Massachusetts passed a similar ban in the state, Stockley said, which has been in place since then. The rifles Healey now wants to ban, he said, were sold during that time and were considered legal, but "she now is acting like there is a loophole."
"She also said the gun shops were on with it," said Stockley's son, Jacob, "but they weren't." He said they were caught off-guard by the July 20 announcement.
"What [Healey] just did went over the [Legislature and governor]," he added.
"I'm not part of the NRA (National Rifle Association), though I support the NRA," said Zachery Whitman of Pittsfield. Those at the rally are law-abiding citizens who own guns, he said, adding that "Maura Healey restricts us, but you can walk six blocks now and get a gun with no questions asked."
Many of those who stood around the sidewalk encircling Park Square held protest signs, American flags or colonial-era "Don't Tread On Me" flags. Among sign messages were "Healey Hurting Families," and "Maura Healey: Civil Rights Wrecking Machine."
Tom Myers, of Lanesborough, said a major reason he attended the rally was to protest "that somebody could come up and make an edict like that without comment from others."
"Basically, our Second Amendment rights are being infringed upon, and if nobody stands up and tries like this, we will not get any attention," said Tom Logsdon, of Lee. The AR-15 style rifle is "the most popular type of rifle in the country," Wallace said, with millions privately owned around the country. It is also popular with hunters, he said. Of the ramifications of Healey's announcement in Massachusetts, Wallace said, "we simply don't know how far-reaching this is."
It is also confusing, he said, since it is unclear whether sales prior to the announcement will be considered grandfathered, and therefore legal. Healey last month notified gun dealers in the state that they must stop selling weapons she said have been tweaked by manufacturers and now violate the state's assault weapons ban. She said the manufacturers had essentially been determining which weapons were compliant with state law, but that her office now intends to close what she termed a loophole that allowed "gun manufacturers' self-appointed interpretation" of the law.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.