Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

The gun lobby is alive and well in blue Massachusetts

Attorney General Maura Healey.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Attorney General Maura Healey.

Even in deep blue Massachusetts, the gun lobby is hard at work pushing its agenda.

Pro-gun activists turn up regularly at Attorney General Maura Healey’s town hall meetings, holding “Healey Hurts Families” signs to protest her enforcement of state gun laws.

Crazy. The state’s chief law enforcement officer is called out for causing pain to families, supposedly by denying them access to assault weapons that are illegal under state law — while unchecked access to automatic weapons tears apart untold numbers of families, as it did last Sunday night in Las
Vegas.

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The Massachusetts assault weapons ban, passed by a Democratic Legislature and signed by a Republican governor, is nearly 20 years old. But Healey gave the gun lobby new reason to fight when, after the Pulse shooting massacre in Orlando in 2016, she issued a directive that called for curtailing the sale of guns that copy the Colt AR-15 or AK-47 and others that were banned back in 1998.

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She says she’s only enforcing the law on the books; the gun lobby says she’s expanding it, and they used that directive as a reason to pick up the attack against her. After she issued it, “You saw what happened,” said Healey, “the social media, the trolls, the threats, the lawsuits.”

Last January, the Gun Owners’ Action League — the Massachusetts affiliate for the National Rifle Association — filed suit against Healey and Governor Charlie Baker in federal court, arguing that the state’s ban on assault weapons is unlawful. The complaint also contends that Healey’s directive “vastly expanded Massachusetts’ prohibition to ban an entire class of popular firearms commonly kept for lawful purposes.”

Baker has since been removed as a defendant. That leaves Healey as the gun lobby’s main target. Besides challenging her in court, gun proponents eagerly contribute money to be used against her. Citing her crackdown on “copycat” assault weapons, for example, the Springfield gun maker Smith & Wesson contributed $500,000 to support voter registration and gun owners’ rights promoted by the gun industry’s largest association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation. In a statement issued at the time, CEO James Debney said, “We are honored to support this effort on behalf of our employees and especially the law-abiding firearm owners of Massachusetts, who have so recently been denied their fundamental rights through arbitrary government action that threatens to turn lawful gun owners and dealers into criminals.”

On its website, GOAL makes no secret of its campaign against her. There’s a page dedicated to “GOAL v. Healey.” A blog calls her out for “a campaign of confusion, fear, and intimidation against families and family businesses.” A tweet from a year ago announces, “Our Healey Hurts Families yard signs are here!” I left a voice mail message at the GOAL office and sent an e-mail to the executive director. Both went unanswered. On the morning after the Las Vegas shooting, the group tweeted that its “thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the barbaric and evil act of violence in Las Vegas last night.”

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As for the attacks on her via the Internet and in court, Healey said, “My job is to work to defend the law and I will continue to do so.” She claims that her directive ended the sale of at least 10,000 copycat weapons in Massachusetts. Of the state’s longtime ban on assault weapons, she said, “I believe this law is entirely constitutional when it was passed by the good judgment of the Legislature back in 1998.”

That won’t stop the gun lobby from trying to change it, no matter what the prevailing political opinion. Nothing distracts from its agenda, not even the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.