LAST WEEK, Attorney General Maura Healey issued an Enforcement Notice to provide certainty to Massachusetts gun dealers, gun manufacturers, and residents on how her office will enforce our state’s 18-year-old assault weapons ban and, specifically, to clarify which assault weapons are prohibited as “copies or duplicates” under the law.
Since then, certain people have claimed that the Attorney General, in taking this action, exceeded the authority of her office. We write, as the previous five attorneys general of Massachusetts, to express our full confidence in Attorney General Healey’s actions as constitutional, lawful, and consistent with the duties and responsibilities of her office.
As chief law enforcement officer for the Commonwealth, the attorney general both sets legal policy for the state and enforces our state laws to ensure public safety and wellbeing. In carrying out that significant responsibility, we each were called upon to exercise our judgment and respond with the tools at our disposal to address the challenges of our time.
In the 18 years since the passage of the Massachusetts ban, gun manufacturers have sold tens of thousands of “copycat” assault weapons nearly indistinguishable from the originals. Meanwhile, military-style assault rifles have become the weapon of choice in mass shootings from Newtown and San Bernardino to Aurora and Dallas. Although Massachusetts is fortunate to have some of the strongest gun laws in the country, and lawmakers deeply committed to their improvement, the scale of this crisis demands bold action by law enforcement to keep our residents safe.
In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting that left 49 people dead and a country in mourning, the attorney general has acted within her authority to stop the sale of illegal assault weapons in Massachusetts and give our residents the full protection of our laws. She is not exceeding her authority — she is exercising it. And she has our thanks.
Francis Bellotti, James Shannon, Scott Harshbarger, Tom Reilly, and Martha Coakley are the five previous attorneys general of Massachusetts.