In response to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s unilateral decision to ban semi-automatic weapons, both Governor Charlie Baker and his public safety secretary, Daniel Bennett, sent letters to Healey’s office on Tuesday essentially asking her to clarify herself and the details of her proposal.
“There is a great deal of uncertainty as to which weapons you consider to be assault weapons,” Bennett wrote in his two-page letter. “This uncertainty could easily lead to uneven application of the law across the Commonwealth, and it would be in the best interest of all involved to have additional clarity.”
Bennett warned that because of Haley’s confusion on the difference between automatic and semi-automatic weapons that “a large number of firearms, including pistols that have been sold here legally for decades, may be unintentionally affected.”
“Ambiguities in your notice require clarification for responsible gun owners who simply want to follow the rules and for the thousands of gun owners who were told they were following the rules for eighteen years,” Baker said in a separate letter, referencing the 1998 Massachusetts law which banned assault weapons.
Haley’s directive, which she unveiled last week, states:
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.
Bennett specifically addressed the two “tests” Healey’s notice identified to distinguish which guns fall under the ban. Weapons banned under one test if it’s “internal functioning components” are similar to a banned assault weapon or under the second test if two or more of its “operating components” are the same or interchangeable as those of an “assault weapon”.
The Governor noted that using the first test, one Colt pistol (which he states has had the same design since 1911) has “similar characteristics” to a listed “assault weapon” under Haley’s “similarity test” and that the second test just as confusing for gun owners.
“(H)ow could Massachusetts citizens (who already own these weapons but are not experts in their design) understand the limits of your recently announced rule and appropriately conform their behavior?” Bennett wrote.
While Bennett made sure to encourage the AG’s assault on gun rights, calling her efforts a “laudable goal, and I support that goal.”, even he knows Haley’s directive is unclear, impractical and would create mass confusion for Massachusetts gun owners.
“…the questions raised by your office’s Enforcement Notice create significant uncertainty and practical issues for the public,” he said.