STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
The House’s point person on public safety issues is questioning Attorney General Maura Healey’s recent action to crack down on the sale of copycat assault weapons in Massachusetts.
Rep. Harold Naughton, the House chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security and a major in the US Army Reserve, is among many elected officials who have written letters to Healey expressing concerns about her July 20 announcement.
In a letter dated Monday, the Clinton representative went further than even Gov. Charlie Baker and some of his colleagues in raising concerns about the top law enforcement official’s stepped up enforcement.
“While I understand your intentions in this matter, I feel this is a misuse and overstepping of authority,” Naughton said. “In the view of many of my legislative colleagues and I, the assault weapons ban has been implemented effectively by the Attorney General’s Office as well as law enforcement.”
Healey last week said she would move to close a “loophole” in the state’s assault weapons ban that she said has allowed gun manufacturers and dealers to produce and sell copies or duplicates of banned weapons that function like an assault weapon, but have slight alterations that allow them to evade the state ban.
The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Naughton’s letter, but from Philadelphia this week Healey has said her legal notice resulted in a “precipitous drop” in sales of assault weapons. Healey’s office also said it was available to work with gun dealers on compliance with the law. “Dealers across the state seem to understand the notice perfectly well and have come into compliance,” a top spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Naughton, in a letter delivered to Healey’s office Monday, said her legal notice was “not only confusing, but the vagueness of the guidance has raised significant questions over which firearms are now banned or could be banned in the future.”
“I am also fearful this will have an immediate economic impact on small retailers in the Commonwealth,” Naughton wrote.
Rep. John Fernandes, the House chair of the Judiciary Committee, also circulated a letter among his colleagues this week for signatures to ask Healey to clarify how her office would now enforce the assault weapons ban and to point to her constitutional or statutory authority to take such steps.
Baker also asked Healey for clarity after Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett raised the possibility of some pistols being banned under Healey’s new directive, but not even the Republican governor questioned Healey’s authority to enforce the law as she interprets it.
“I support the assault weapons ban that has been in place for nearly twenty years here in Massachusetts and support our country’s Second Amendment,” Baker wrote in his letter. “I also believe that if gun makers are intentionally subverting the law then they should be held accountable.”
Naughton, who played an early role in developing the 2014 gun licensing reform bill signed by then Gov. Deval Patrick, said he would not be opposed to revisiting the state’s gun laws again.
“This being said, I strongly believe that any such review of our gun control laws should be a legislative matter to be considered by both the House and Senate along with public input,” Naughton said.
Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said in a statement Tuesday that Healey was “correctly enforcing our existing assault weapons ban” and called it “shocking that over 10,000 copycat assault weapons were sold last year in Massachusetts.”
“In the wake of an Orlando shooting that took 49 lives, Attorney General Healey acted decisively to close an assault weapon loophole that has existed for eighteen years,” Sullivan said. “It was a big mistake to allow gun manufacturers the unbridled discretion to interpret and circumvent the assault weapons ban created by the citizens of Massachusetts.”