Massachusetts AG Clamps Down on 'Copycat' Assault Weapon Ban

Josh Luckenbaugh | July 21, 2016
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On Wednesday, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey declared she is stepping up enforcement of the state's assault weapon ban, including a crackdown on the sale of "copycat" assault weapons.

Healey's office released a statement regarding these efforts, which contained the following:

The Massachusetts assault weapons ban mirrors the federal ban that expired in 2004. It prohibits the sale of specific and name-brand weapons and explicitly bans copies or duplicates of those weapons. Gun manufacturers, however, make and market what they call “state compliant” versions with minor tweaks to various parts of the weapon. Copycat guns are sold, for example, without a flash suppressor or with a fixed instead of folding stock. These changes do not make the weapon any less lethal and the weapons remain illegal.

The AG’s notice clarifies what constitutes a copy or duplicate weapon by outlining two tests. Under the tests, a weapon is a copy or duplicate if its internal operating system is essentially the same as those of a specifically-banned weapon or if the gun has key functional components that are interchangeable with those of a banned weapon.

According to the statement, around 10,000 copycats of banned firearms, which include the Colt AR-15 and the Kalishnikov AK-47, were sold in Massachusetts last year. 

"The gun industry has openly defied our laws here in Massachusetts for nearly two decades," Healey is quoted as saying. "That ends today. We have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that combat-style weapons are off our streets and out of the hands of those who would use them to kill innocent people. Increasingly, these guns are the weapon of choice for mass shooters, and we will do everything we can to prevent the kinds of tragedies here that have occurred in places like Orlando, San Bernardino, Newtown and Aurora."

In addition to the official statement, Healey wrote an opinion piece in the Boston Globe about the increased enforcement of the ban. She concluded:

In the face of utter inaction by Congress, states have a duty to enact and enforce laws that protect people from gun violence. If Washington won’t use its power to get these guns off our streets, we will. Not only do we have the legal authority to do so, we have a moral obligation to do so.

Gun stores statewide saw upticks in sales of military-style firearms after Healy's announcement, while many expressed disdain for the increase in gun regulation.

"It’s a political stunt,” Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, told the Globe. "Unfortunately, it’s a political stunt with a lot of ramifications that we’re trying to figure out and trying [to] work through. [...] We’ve understood the rules for almost 20 years now, and now we have one person who has come in, unilaterally, and said those are not the rules anymore."

One Massachusettes gun store owner told the Boston Herald, "It doesn’t seem right. She’s just reinterpreting the statute. I’m sure there will be legal challenges from all angles."

Charles C. W. Cooke of National Review offered a sharp critique of Healy's actions:

Leaving aside how utterly stupid it is for governments to categorize and to prohibit weapons in this manner; ignoring for now that Massachusetts’s strictest-in-the-nation gun-control laws have coincided with an increase in gun crime, against the national trend; and averting our eyes from the fact that Healey is responding to a non-problem (there were literally no murders committed with rifles in her state last year), that the millions of people who live in Massachusetts are allowing their rights to be regulated on-the-fly by a single ill-informed official is utterly astonishing.

With Massachusetts' increased enforcement of its assault weapon ban in the wake of the recent shootings around the country, it will be interesting to see if other states institute similar gun control measures in the coming months.