I had been hearing a lot of negativity about new gun restrictions that were implemented by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey recently. I attended the rally opposing those restrictions, which was held at Park Square in Pittsfield on Aug. 6. Over 160 people attended that rally bearing flags and placards.
I sought out GOAL executive director James Wallace, seeking answers to two questions: What exactly does the new enforcement order say, and what are the gun owners' objections?
When I posed the first question to Wallace, his answer was: "That's the problem, no one understands it."
He claims that Healey found two little words in the so-called assault weapons law — "copies" and "duplicates." He explained that since 1994, when the federal law was in effect, and then in 1998 when the state adopted the law and then in 2004 when the federal law was sunsetting, the state acted in emergency legislation to permanently adopt the federal definitions to the state law. So from 1994 on, everybody understood the rules. Everybody knew exactly what gun makers could manufacture, what dealers could sell and what the public could buy and register.
"Twenty-two years later," Wallace said, "she takes the initiative on those two words to redefine what an assault weapon is. There is no clarity in what she did, nobody understands it and if they say so they are lying. In its broadest interpretation it could include virtually every semi-automatic gun out there, not just ARs or AKs."
It is Wallace's belief that Healey doesn't want clarification.
According to Wallace, when Healey held a press conference on July 20, she accused the industry of making up its own rules.
"So recently, media has been approaching her about clarifying this and she said that she put out the enforcement letters and now it up to the industry to figure out how to comply," Wallace said. "She just accused them of doing that and now she is changing the rules about clarifying it and saying it is still up to the industry to figure that out. This affects hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts families, this isn't just a few people who bought a gun they weren't supposed to have."
"The other thing to remember", Wallace said, "since the 1994, 1998 and 2004 laws took effect, for 22 years, manufacturers have been making these compliant guns, retailers have been selling them, people have been buying and registering them. Every single transaction that has taken place since 1994 had to be registered through the state. So they have had 22 years to say 'we've got a problem with what you guys are buying, selling, manufacturing.'
"When I mentioned that Healey said they are not going to take the guns away from legal owners and gun dealers that have them already. What people really need to pay attention to is the fine print. The very last line of that enforcement letter says that 'The Attorney General's Office reserves the right to alter or amend this guidance.' So even though she promised not to prosecute at this time, it doesn't stop someone else from doing it in the future. What's to stop an aggressive DA or police chief the next time you go to renew say that they checked your records, you bought two of these guns, that's a felony. You are now an unsuitable person and you have got to turn in your guns and license. She made hundreds of thousands of felons over night."
GOAL has learned that the Healey is currently seeking information from the firearms industry regarding customer lists, manufacturing dates and serial numbers for guns, even hand guns and .22s. He believes that this is just her first move and that she is trying to put the firearm industry out of Massachusetts. According to Wallace, there are already over 100 state legislators who opposed her actions.
So what does the order specifically state? Healey's office referred me to its website that has the information, so I gleaned information from the July 20 order: " We are sending a directive to all gun manufacturers and dealers that makes clear that the sale of these copycat assault weapons is illegal in Massachusetts. With this directive, we will ensure we get the full protection intended when lawmakers enacted our assault weapons ban, not the watered-down version of those protections offered by gun manufacturers."
The directive specifically outlines two tests to determine what constitutes a "copy" or "duplicate" of a prohibited weapon. If a gun's operating system is essentially the same as that of a banned weapon, or if the gun has components that are interchangeable with those of a banned weapon, it's a "copy" or "duplicate" and is illegal. Assault weapons prohibited under our laws cannot be altered in any way to make their sale or possession legal in Massachusetts.
"We recognize that most residents who purchased these guns in the past believed they were doing so legally, so this directive will not apply to possession of guns purchased before Wednesday (July 20)," the order added.
In later remarks, she said that dealers who currently have these weapons on hand are not permitted to sell them to Massachusetts buyers. They may transfer them out-of-state to jurisdictions where sales of these weapons are legal.
Perhaps you are like me, not owning or desiring to own one of those guns, and not giving this matter much attention. After all, they say that they are not going after our three- or five-shot semi-automatic hunting guns. Well, how many politicians do you believe these days? Maybe we should pay closer attention to this matter.
Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone: 413-637-1818.