Regulatory over-reach, thy name is Massachusetts. You may remember that back in 2016 Bay State Attorney General Maura Healey unilaterally extended the state’s ban on “assault weapon” sales with a stroke of her pen.
She accomplished this high-handed feat of autocracy by redefining the legal definition of what qualifies as an assault rifle, a move aimed at prohibiting long guns that had been designed around the definition contained in the legislation passed in the state’s assault weapons ban almost 20 years ago.
The Massachusetts assault weapons ban mirrors the federal ban Congress allowed to expire in 2004. It prohibits the sale of specific weapons like the Colt AR-15 and AK-47 and explicitly bans “copies or duplicates” of those weapons. But gun manufacturers have taken it upon themselves to define what a “copy” or “duplicate” weapon is. They 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.
That will end now. On Wednesday, 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.
Healey’s diktat provoked a lawsuit filed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and four Bay State gun retailers on the basis that regulation by fiat deprives the plaintiffs of their due process rights. Last week, a Massachusetts judge denied Healey’s motion to quash the suit. Here’s the NSSF’s press release:
NEWTOWN, Conn. – A U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts judge has denied state Attorney General Maura Healey’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by four federally-licensed Massachusetts firearms retailers and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, challenging the overreaching “Enforcement Notice” issued by her office in 2016 that deprived the retailers of their due process protections. The suit, which seeks declaratory relief and a permanent injunction enjoining enforcement, can now move forward.
“Attorney General Healy overstepped her authority when she issued the ‘enforcement notice’ banning certain firearms that have been lawfully sold in the state since at least 1998. Firearms retailers in Massachusetts were left to determine the meaning or scope of the Attorney General’s Enforcement Notice and subsequent explanations,” said Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel. “Because criminal penalties can result due to Attorney General Healey’s unilateral reinterpretation of a state statute done without administrative process or input from affected parties, her office exceeded its lawful authority and retailers were deprived of their due process protections under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.”
Representing NSSF and the retailers are the Boston-based law firm of Kenney and Sams, P.C. and Michael Sullivan of the Ashcroft Law Firm, who is a former United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts and former acting director, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Read the Memorandum and Order.