Healey asks court to dismiss challenge to Massachusetts ‘assault weapon’ change

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey contends the law is on her side and wants a federal court to toss out a challenge to her recent guidance on just what constitutes an "assault weapon" under state law. (Photo: John Blanding/Boston Globe)

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey contends the law is on her side and wants a federal court to toss out a challenge to her recent guidance on just what constitutes an “assault weapon” under state law. (Photo: John Blanding/Boston Globe)

Attorney General Maura Healey told a federal court on Tuesday her recent ban on the sale of “Massachusetts-compliant” semi-auto rifles is within both the scope of her post and the constitution.

In July, Healy declared she was banning the sale of “copycat” rifles that shared common parts such as triggers or bolt carriers with AR-15s, AK-variants and others on the Commonwealth’s prohibited “assault weapons” list, saying that as many as 10,000 had been legally sold in the state last year. This led to a rush on stores by gun owners seeking to buy the newly prohibited models, as well as pushback from lawmakers and regulatory agencies. Finally, in September, four gun dealers and a firearms trade advocacy group filed suit in federal court seeking to overturn the new rules.

This week, the attorney general’s 53-page response was that the legal challenge is without merit and should be dismissed.

The lawsuit brought against Healy contends the notice issued by her office is inconsistent with Massachusetts law, is unconstitutionally vague, and can be read in a way that violates the Second Amendment. In asking the court to throw the case out, Healy argued the allegations should be dismissed, citing her decision was based on state law which she, as Attorney General, is tasked to interpret and that any strain placed on the Second Amendment is minor as it “imposes no significant burden on the rights of law-abiding individuals to possess a firearm for self-defense in the home.”

One of the more novel interpretations Healy used in defining what an “assault weapon” was under the Commonwealth’s law was in focusing on gun actions — which are the heart of a weapon platform rather than cosmetic features such as stocks and grips — through the use of an interchangeability test.

Citing it is in line with a 2010 Maryland attorney general opinion, Healy says if she continued to allow “Massachusetts-compliant” AR-15 style rifles to be sold in the state, “It would permit the unchecked sale of weapons with the same military-style construction, the same functionality, and the same lethality” as those already prohibited by the Commonwealth’s 1998 assault weapon ban.

In response to claims by the gun dealers that her actions were arbitrary and an abuse of her power, Healy contends that she could have easily filed charges for selling what she considers guns in violation of state laws but rather, “By issuing the notice, the attorney general hopes and expects that non-compliant gun dealers will come into voluntary compliance with the law.”

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