Senate GOP leader files bill to strip AG of power to regulate firearms

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STATE HOUSE — Attorney General Maura Healey would be stripped of her authority to regulate firearms under a bill filed Friday afternoon by the state Senate minority leader.

Sen. Bruce Tarr of Gloucester filed his “act to protect due process and strengthen public safety” 12 days after Healey announced her office would step up enhancement of the state’s 1998 assault weapon ban on what she described as “copycat” guns that are similar in construction to banned guns or have interchangeable key parts.

Healey’s announcement was praised by anti-violence advocates and members of the state’s Congressional delegation but was met with swift backlash from gun owners who interpreted the move as an overreach that circumvented the legislative process.

“It’s very insidious, what she did, and as far as we’re concerned it’s a clear abuse of power,” Gun Owners’ Action League executive director Jim Wallace said Friday.

GOAL plans a lobby day on Saturday, the penultimate day of formal legislative sessions for the year, and in a Friday newsletter urged members to contact lawmakers in support of Tarr’s legislation.

Tarr’s office confirmed Friday afternoon that the bill had been filed, with Republican Sens. Donald Humason of Westfield, Ryan Fattman of Webster and Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth as cosponsors. A Tarr aide said he expected additional lawmakers to sign on to the bill.

The bill would forbid the attorney general from putting forward rules or regulations that “govern, limit, or otherwise relate to weapons as defined in Section 121 of Chapter 140, the manufacture of weapons or the sale of weapons.” Any previous rules or regulations would be repealed.

Additionally, the bill would require the attorney general, governor or public safety secretary to go through the legislative process in order to make a “material change” to the definition of weapon or assault weapon. The bill defines “material change” as a change that adds or removes one or more weapons “by class, type or specific model” from the definition.

The bill also raises the fine for failure to report a gun transfer under the state’s reporting system and increases the sentence for a conviction of use of firearms during a felony, if the person does not have a license or the transfer of the firearm was not recorded.

Humason has filed a separate bill that would remove the attorney general’s authority to regulate firearm sales, and Rep. Marc Lombardo, a Billerica Republican, sponsored similar legislation.

On Thursday, five previous attorneys general released a statement expressing “full confidence” in Healey’s actions, saying she “acted within her authority to stop the sale of illegal assault weapons in Massachusetts and give our residents the full protection of our laws.”

“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,” the attorneys general – Frank Bellotti, James Shannon, Scott Harshbarger, Tom Reilly and Martha Coakley – wrote in their statement. “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.”

— Written by Katie Lannan 

Copyright State House News Service