When Bans Go Wrong: MA Struggles to Enforce Weapons Ban

AG Healey at an April hearing for the weapons ban lawsuit.
AG Healey at an April hearing for the weapons ban lawsuit.

On July 20, 2016, in the wake of the Orlando Pulse Night Club shooting, Attorney General Maura Healey issued a warning regarding the state’s assault weapons ban to all gun sellers and manufacturers in the state, stating that her office would be ramping up enforcement of Massachusetts’ already strict gun laws, including a crackdown on the sale of copycat weapons.

Clarifying the Weapons Ban

The notice, which is posted on the Massachusetts government website, clarifies what guns, according to the decisive ban, are considered “copy” or “duplicate.” The law, which was in place prior to the expiration of the Federal assault weapons ban in 2004, prohibits the sale of copies or duplicates of banned assault rifles, including two of America’s most popular firearms — the Colt AR-15 and the Kalishnikov AK-47. But in spite of the law, an estimated 10,000 copycat assault weapons were sold in Massachusetts last year alone.

According to Healey, the weapons ban has been purposefully misinterpreted by gun manufacturers for decades.

Essentially a gun is considered a copycat if it has the same internal operating system as one of the ones prohibited by the ban — either that or they are outfitted with important functional components that are easily interchangeable with those of a banned weapon. The Attorney General’s office hopes that these important specifications will force gun manufacturers and sellers to discontinue the manufacture and sale of duplicates.


In a Boston Globe op-ed piece published the same day as the enforcement notice, Attorney General Healey stated that each of those assault weapons were “nearly identical to the rifle used to gun down 49 innocent people in Orlando.” She continued, stating, “In the week after the Pulse nightclub massacre, sales of weapons strikingly similar to the Sig Sauer MCX used at Pulse jumped as high as 450 percent over the previous week — just in Massachusetts.”

Despite having one of the nation’s toughest set of gun laws, Massachusetts continues to face an uphill battle in the firearms industry. According to Healey, manufacturers “market ‘state compliant’ copycat versions of their assault weapons to Massachusetts buyers. They sell guns without a flash suppressor or folding or telescoping stock, for example, small tweaks that do nothing to limit the lethalness of the weapon.”

Challenging the Ban

According to Healey, “In the dozen years since the federal assault weapons ban lapsed, only seven states have instituted their own assault weapons ban. Many of those bans have been challenged (unsuccessfully) by the gun industry, and we anticipate our directive may be too.”

Turns out, she was right.

This past January, the Massachusetts affiliate of the National Rifle Association sued Healey and Governor Charlie Baker, calling the state’s ban — and its revisions — unconstitutional and unlawful. The purpose of the suit was to have the ban declared “void and unenforceable.”

Jay Porter, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, stated, “Our position is that the state doesn’t have the authority under the Second Amendment to ban firearms that are commonly kept by responsible law abiding citizens for lawful purposes. … The Supreme Court has told us emphatically that the government cannot ban popular firearms which are commonly kept for lawful purposes.”

Weapon of War or Safety?

But the question needs to be asked, what lawful purpose do assault weapons have? The most commonly reported reason for owning a gun is self-defense.

However, Healey stated rather concisely in her op-ed that assault weapons like the AR-15, are “[weapons] of war, originally created for combat, and designed to kill many people in a short amount of time with incredible accuracy… These are not weapons of self-defense. They are weapons used to commit mass murder. And they have no business being in civilian hands.”

Since the enforcement notice, manufacture and sales of assault weapons has ended in the state of Massachusetts. But gun industry lobbyists and gun rights activists continue to fight what they consider unjust gun laws.

And their lawsuit is not without precedent.

Gun rights advocates have previously filed similar complaints in New York, Connecticut, and Maryland.

As of April 7, 2017, the judge overseeing the case met with both parties to discuss whether or not the July directive constitutes a new state regulation before he decides whether to move the lawsuit forward.

Since then no new information has come out. We will continue to update the story as it progresses.

In the mean time, we’d love for you to weigh in. What do you think of AG Healey’s assault weapons ban? Do you think people need semi-automatic weapons for purposes of self-defense? Let us know.