The Editorial Board of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly ran an endorsment of AG Healey’s unilateral inversion of what constitutes an “assault weapon.” My rebuttal to that endorsement ran the following week:
In the October 21st issue of MLW, the editorial board declared, “AG on right side of ‘copycat’ gun issue.” I beg to differ.
Specifically, I believe the AG’s precipitate and unilateral action flouts over two decades of settled law, with little substantive basis for that action. It logically follows that the MLW editorial board’s endorsement of that fiat is disappointing.
Let us review the facts:
1. The criteria determining what is an “assault weapon” was set forth in Federal law in 1994. It remained law for a decade; from Maine to American Samoa. Everywhere, its identification of those guns specifically (if speciously) identified as “assault weapons” was understood, as were the detailed criteria and features by which other guns would be so deemed. The statutory criteria were duly applied, and the gun makers complied with them, removing those features.
2. In 1998, Chapter 180 adopted the Federal definition and criteria verbatim, incorporating it into Massachusetts law. All firearms meeting the Federal criteria, therefore, necessarily met the new, identical, Massachusetts criteria. The criteria are set forth in M.G.L. c. 140, §121.
That act further established a separate license, the License To Carry Firearms (LTC), which was required to possess any “large capacity” gun, including long arms. So-called “assault weapons” were, inherently by definition, “large capacity,” meaning the legislature created a new firearms license which was required to own these guns.
Therefore, the Massachusetts legislature clearly knew what an “assault weapon” was, as it defined both the guns and “large capacity feeding devices” which are the fundamental basis for that definition. Expressly addressing those issues, the legislature specifically provided for the legal ownership of “large capacity” guns and mags, both “preban” and “postban,” including those guns defined it defined as “assault weapons.”
In short, the legislature statutorily authorized the possession and transfer of the very class of firearms AG Healey has unilaterally declared “illegal.” Yet the MLW Editorial Board endorses her action.
3. In 2005, Chapter 150 again addressed firearms ownership and licensing. It re-enacted the exact same definition of “assault weapon” verbatim, and again kept the requirement of a specific license, the LTC, to possess any “large capacity” firearm.
4. In 2014, after exhaustive “listening tours” and protracted negotiations between the house and senate, Chapter 284 was enacted. Yet again, no change was made to the well-settled, twice-enacted definition of “assault weapon,” or the criteria by which a gun would be so defined. Yet again, the LTC was kept as a requirement for owning any “large capacity firearm.”
AG Healey’s directive flouts all of the above statutes; she ignores the clear intent, express language, and documented legislative history of one Federal statute and two state statutes specifically defining “assault weapon.” She does so with no consultation with, still less prior notice to, those directly affected; gun owners and dealers.
Such notice as was given was, initially, in a letter to the Globe, with mere hours before her reversal of two decades of settled law took place. It resulted in those guns lawfully acquired and possessed unilaterally being declared unlawful, exposing the owners to criminal sanctions. Yet the MLW Editorial Board endorses that act.
Note that all three (3) of AG Healey’s immediate predecessors never interpreted the “assault weapon” statute, M.G.L. c. 140, §121, as she does. That includes Editorial Board member Harshbarger. Are we really to believe three (3) consecutive Attorneys General failed to comprehend the law?
AG Healey’s dictat goes directly against the well-settled, clearly defined, and thrice-enacted law. The MLW editorial board’s endorsement of that act is ill-considered.
Very truly yours,
Keith G. Langer