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Gun rights activists rally against curb on copycat assault rifles

Gun-rights advocates rallied in front of the State House on Saturday.
Gun-rights advocates rallied in front of the State House on Saturday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Hundreds of gun rights activists lined Beacon Street in front of the State House on Saturday morning to denounce Attorney General Maura Healey’s recent restriction on copycat assault rifles.

They were joined by about two dozen state legislators, including a Democrat, Senator Anne Gobi, who promised to fight in the closing days of the legislative session against what they called “reinterpretation without representation.”

Healey issued an order to the state’s 350 gun dealers, effective last Wednesday, requiring them to stop selling copycat, or slightly altered, versions of common semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15. She argued that gun sellers were exploiting a loophole in the state’s 1998 assault weapons ban in order to sell functionally identical firearms, 10,000 of which she said were sold last year.

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“The gun industry doesn’t get to decide what’s compliant,” she said at a press conference Wednesday. “We do.”

Gun advocates have responded that Healey acted unilaterally, bypassing the Legislature, a move they say is an overstep of her powers.

Gun sales spiked in the wake of Healey’s announcement: Massachusetts dealers sold 2,251 military-style rifles Wednesday alone — more than 17 times the number sold the day before. Sales dropped to 143 Thursday, which Healey said showed that dealers were heeding her order.

Saturday’s rally was led by the Massachusetts Gun Owners’ Action League but included gun owners from local gun associations across the state, wielding “Don’t Tread on Me” flags and signs depicting Healey with a Hitler mustache.

“She should have her title changed from Attorney General to Her Majesty,” said John Lorusso, 58, vice president of the Reading Rifle and Revolver Club. “You want to change the law? You make a bill. You don’t just pull a fast one. Those are kingly powers.”

Legislators and advocates who took the microphone said Healey had transformed legal gun owners into “felons-in-waiting” overnight. They acknowledged that Healey had promised not to prosecute those who purchased the guns legally before her order, but said they did not trust her word.

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A rally was held in front of the State House Saturday morning.
A rally was held in front of the State House Saturday morning.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

“She could change her mind tomorrow,” Gun Owners’ Action League executive director Jim Wallace said.

“We don’t believe that anything in the Constitution is optional,” said Senate minority leader Bruce Tarr, to roars of approval. “Not the First Amendment that allows you to be here, and not the Second Amendment that allows you to defend yourself.”

In a statement Saturday after the protest, Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Healey, called claims that Healey is taking guns away from law-abiding citizens “inaccurate and misinformed.” Healey is simply enforcing the existing law, Fennimore said.

The crowd erupted in chants several times, from “Blue Lives Matter” to “Charlie! Charlie!” calling on Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, to join the rally. When he did not appear, the chant changed to “Coward! Coward!”

Billy Pitman, the governor’s press secretary, has said Baker believes Healey has the authority to crack down on guns that skirt the assault weapons ban.

Some attendees said they had rescheduled plans to be there that morning.

“It’s tough on a Saturday. People have kids. People have to rearrange everything,” said Lee Stein, 53, of Chelmsford. “But it’s important.’’

Garret Kirkland, 53, of Tewksbury, said the protesters are law-abiding citizens. But when asked if he plans to comply with Healey’s order, he and Stein, who are brothers-in-law, replied immediately: “No.”

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“Any law that’s not constitutional is not a law that needs to be complied with,” Stein said.

Pierre Salomon, 26, of Boston, who toted a blue plastic copy of an assault rifle, said he is a combat veteran who fought in Afghanistan.

“I fought for my rights,” he said. “And we come back here and are treated as criminals.”

 A demonstrator with a patriotic tattoo on his leg at the rally.
A demonstrator with a patriotic tattoo on his leg at the rally. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Vivian Wang can be reached at vivian.wang@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vwang3.