A group of gun rights advocates backed by the National Rifle Association has sued Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey over the state’s 1998 “assault weapon” ban and Healey’s 2016 directive that cracked down on “copycat” firearms.
“Massachusetts prohibits firearms it pejoratively defines as ‘assault weapons,’ which is a non-technical, entirely fabricated, and political term of uncertain definition and scope,” the 33-page lawsuit contends.
The suit also takes issue with Healey’s directive last year that banned the sale of “copycat” rifles. These rifles had been modified to adhere to the 1998 ban by removing the adjustable stocks or the muzzle devices.
Healey’s unilateral order called for an end to the sale of these rifles but failed to provide sufficient guidance for gun dealers trying to comply with the directive.
In this week’s lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued that Healey’s action “broadly expands the statutory definition far beyond what had been for almost 20 years the settled custom and practice.”
The complaint says Healey’s directive “upends decades of settled custom and practice in Massachusetts, retroactively criminalizes decades of legal behavior and transactions” and “exposes the plaintiffs and other gun owners to criminal penalties for exercising their Second Amendment rights.”
Lawsuits have been filed in federal court against other states with “assault weapon” bans, including New York, Connecticut, and Maryland, without success.
But in light of Donald Trump’s victory and the opportunity to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia with another pro-Second Amendment judge, gun advocates have reason to be hopeful.
If this suit can work its way through the lower federal courts and be heard by the Supreme Court, the pro-gun community has an opportunity to score a massive victory, one that could lead to the repeal of other “assault weapon” bans in other states.
Jay Porter, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, certainly seems to be thinking along these lines. He told the Boston Globe that their case rests on the idea that AR-15s and AK-47s cannot be banned because they are in common use, an idea upheld by the Supreme Court and Justice Scalia in D.C. v. Heller:
“Our position is that the state doesn’t have the authority under the Second Amendment to ban firearms that are commonly kept by responsible law abiding citizens for lawful purposes. … The Supreme Court has told us emphatically that the government cannot ban popular firearms which are commonly kept for lawful purposes.”
“The level of hostility to the gun-owning public in the state of Massachusetts has grown to be intolerable,” Porter added. “At this point, it had grown to the level where litigation had become necessary. At some point, if you have a fundamental right, you have to protect it.”