For Immediate Release - July 20, 2016

AG Healey Announces Enforcement of Ban on Copycat Assault Weapons

In the Wake of Orlando Mass Shooting, AG Healey Warns Gun Makers, Dealers Against Selling Prohibited Assault Weapons in Massachusetts; Clarifies What Constitutes a Copycat Weapon

BOSTON –– Attorney General Maura Healey today issued a notice to all gun sellers and manufacturers in Massachusetts, warning that her office is stepping up enforcement of the state’s assault weapons ban, including a crackdown on the sale of copycat weapons.

The enforcement notice clarifies what constitutes a “copy” or “duplicate” weapon under the assault weapons ban. Copies or duplicates of banned assault rifles, including copies of the Colt AR-15 and the Kalishnikov AK-47, are prohibited by the Massachusetts assault weapons ban. Despite the law, an estimated 10,000 copycat assault weapons were sold in Massachusetts last year alone.

“The gun industry has openly defied our laws here in Massachusetts for nearly two decades,” said AG Healey. “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.”

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.

The notice also states that assault weapons prohibited under state law, as manufactured, cannot be altered in any way to make their sale or possession legal in Massachusetts.

The notice makes clear that the guidance will not be enforced against gun owners who bought or sold these weapons prior to July 20, 2016. Dealers who currently have these weapons on hand are not permitted to sell them to Massachusetts buyers. They may transfer them out-of-state to jurisdictions where sales of these weapons are legal. The AG’s office expects substantial cooperation from gun sellers and will work to ensure that they understand and comply with the law. 

Today’s action is one more step in the AG’s effort to reduce gun violence in Massachusetts. Last year, AG Healey issued a notice to all 350 state gun dealers reminding them of their obligations under state law. Earlier this year, she led a multi-state effort urging Congress to lift the ban on gun-violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and is working with medical professionals to help develop guidelines for physicians to speak to their patients about guns in the home. AG Healey continues to investigate violations of the gun laws statewide.

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Supporter Statements

Chief William G. Brooks III, President, Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association
“It is important to understand that today's enforcement notice from Attorney General Healey is not new law, nor a new set of regulations.  The Commonwealth's assault weapon statute has been in place for many years.  To her credit, she has chosen to remind gun shops of the law's provisions prior to conducting inspections. Massachusetts has a reputation for strong gun laws.  One reason is that police chiefs are responsible for issuing firearms licenses, and the law permits them to exercise their judgment in determining which applicants may not be suitable.  In day-to-day application, police chiefs take their responsibilities very seriously and the vast majority of gun license applications are granted.  A second reason our gun laws are effective is that gun shop owners scrupulously abide by state and federal law.  This is why I believe today's enforcement notice will be well received by gun shop owners.  The gun shop owners I have met are trustworthy business people who recognize their valuable role in violence prevention.”

Congresswoman Katherine Clark
“There are a number of common sense measures we can take on the federal and state level to address gun violence and keep our communities safe. Thanks to Attorney General Healey’s leadership, the implementation of two new evaluation tests will help close a dangerous loophole that allows gun manufacturers to produce and sell assault-style replicas and will prevent new sales of illegal assault weapons in Massachusetts.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley
“Study after study has shown that gun laws work.  And here in Massachusetts, where firearm fatalities are among the lowest in the nation, gun laws save lives.  They prohibit a class of weapons that were once reserved for military use, and for good reason: they facilitate the taking of innocent lives on an unconscionable scale, as the number and frequency of mass shootings proves over and over again.  We’re committed to enforcing the letter and the spirit of those laws with one goal in mind, and that’s to protect the people we serve from the scourge of gun violence that’s already claimed far too many victims.”

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans
"These types of assault weapons have no place on our streets. We have tough gun laws in our state, and this notice will make them even tougher. I applaud AG Healey and her efforts to help make our state and all our cities safer."

Congressman Joe Kennedy III
“Whether in Sandy Hook or Orlando, our country knows far too well that weapons designed to inflict maximum harm do not discriminate by age, gender or race when aimed at large groups of innocent people. Both our federal and state governments have a responsibility to keep our communities safe, and we must do more to ensure these deadly weapons remain far from dangerous hands. I thank Attorney General Healey for her leadership here at home and will continue to echo her calls for action in Congress.”

Chief Brian Kyes, President, Massachusetts Major City Chiefs
“Based on the emerging trends of gun violence across our nation, anything that we can do here in the Commonwealth to close any existing state law loopholes is looked upon as a positive step in enhancing public safety.  Preventing these assault-type weapons from potentially getting into the wrong hands has the support of the Massachusetts Major City Police Chiefs Association.”

Liam Lowney, Executive Director of the MA Office for Victim Assistance. Liam’s sister, Shannon Lowney, was killed by someone using an assault weapon.
“The loss of a family member to gun violence is forever.  Surviving family members often define our families as the one that existed before and after our loved ones were taken.  It is essential that our leaders ensure that families in our communities remain intact and safe from assault weapons.  I am grateful to Attorney General Healey for enforcing the ban on Assault Weapons that so many of us impacted by violence have worked to achieve.”

Jack McDevitt, Associate Dean and Director of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University
“With this Enforcement Notice attorney General Maura Healey is closing a loophole that has allowed individuals to circumvent the intent of our state’s assault weapons ban.  In this time of violence and fear across our country, this initiative will make the citizens of the Commonwealth safer.”

Congressman Seth Moulton
“Massachusetts has always been a leader on gun violence prevention, and I commend Attorney General Healey for her efforts make sure that gun manufacturers and dealers comply with the spirit of the Commonwealth's assault weapons ban. This is an important step to keep weapons of war off our streets. We need this kind of leadership in states across the country.”

Po Murray, Chairman, Newtown Action Alliance 
“As a resident of Sandy Hook and a neighbor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, I know firsthand how one gunman with one semiautomatic military-style assault weapon can devastate 26 families, 27,000 community members and 300 million Americans. The human cost of allowing civilians to acquire weapons of war is far too high and millions and millions of dollars have been spent on physical, structural and emotional recovery of our community. It is not surprising that the profit-driven gun makers are attempting to circumvent the assault weapons ban by manufacturing copies or duplicates of banned weapons. As the number of households with guns dwindles, the gun industry thrives on the sale of these weapons of war. As a concerned neighbor of Massachusetts, we applaud Attorney General Maura Healey, for taking bold action to enforce the Massachusetts ban on assault weapons, to protect all citizens near and far.”

John Rosenthal, founder of Stop Handgun Violence
“As the lead advocate for the 2004 permanent ban on assault weapons in the Commonwealth, signed into law by Gov. Mitt Romney, it was clearly the intent to include all military style rifles and pistols that met certain conditions, regardless of the make or brand. It makes no sense that the current assault weapons ban includes the Colt AR 15 but not the Bushmaster and Smith and Wesson AR 15s (used at Sandy Hook, CT and Aurora, CO, to name a few) which are virtually the same weapon, with a different name and simply made and marketed by the gun industry to evade the strict intent of the Massachusetts Assault Weapons Ban. I enthusiastically applaud and thank Attorney General Healey for her critical public safety and life-saving leadership.”

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan
“In Middlesex County we know too well the tragedy that can be inflicted by assault weapons.  In December of 2000 Michael McDermott used an AK-47, one of the most widely copied rifles in the world, to murder seven innocent people in their workplace. The guidance issued today by Attorney General Healey is an important reminder about the existing assault weapons ban and goes an important step further calling attention to the equally deadly and dangerous function of weapons that are manufactured to duplicate these banned weapons.”

Josh Sugarmann, Executive Director of Violence Policy Center
“I appreciate the opportunity to stand here today in strong support of the Attorney General’s actions and to applaud the leadership that Massachusetts has, once again, shown in working to reduce gun violence. Assault weapons are military-bred, anti-personnel weapons designed to kill as many people as possible in as short an amount of time as available.  And just in the past five weeks, from Orlando, to Dallas, and most recently Baton Rouge, we’ve seen the horrific damage these weapons of war can inflict when they are used for the exact purpose for which they were designed.  In 2014, the most recent year for which information is available, Violence Policy Center research revealed that one out of five law enforcement officers slain in the line of duty were killed with an assault weapon. And yet the gun industry constantly works to find ways around the few assault weapons laws that are already on the books – making actions like those announced today crucial to protect public safety.  Today’s action helps ensure the future safety of Massachusetts citizens.”

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