When the Gun Owners’ Action League, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, gathers Sunday to protest Attorney General Maura Healey’s recent actions against assault weapons, it’s hoping members show up in droves, donning American flags and messages of “Don’t Tread On Me” and “Healey: Civil Rights Wrecking Machine.”
But there’s one thing they’re hoping to avoid: Confederate flags.
The group is organizing a “Roll With GOAL” event, in which cars and motorcycles will travel from the Minute Man Sportsman’s Club in Billerica to the Hanson Rod and Gun Club.
In an invitation to members and supporters, the group implored participants to stay on message and avoid actions or symbols that may serve as distractions.
“Please don’t arrive with Confederate battle flags, or any signage that distracts from the central message,” the invitation said. “We can have 199 positive messages, but if one knucklehead shows up with something inflammatory or degrading, we know what the press will focus on.”
“It’s pretty simple. It’s very hard to control everyone who comes to this sort of thing,” GOAL Communications Director Mike Sweeney said. “We don’t want that photo in the paper to be the idiot who shows up with a Confederate flag or doctored picture of Hitler ... We want a uniform message.”
Sweeney said the group hopes people concentrate on the big picture, which he describes as one person unilaterally rewriting the state’s assault weapons law.
In July, Healey announced that her office would be cracking down on what she described as a loophole in the state’s assault weapons ban, which allowed manufacturers to sell “copy cat” models that were functionally identical to the banned guns.
Healey has defended the enforcement notice despite mounting criticism from gun advocates, the Baker administration, and some state legislators, who claimed the move makes the ban less clear and could affect more guns than the law was meant to prohibit.
The state assault weapons ban prohibits a list of specific guns, such as all models of AKs, including AK-47s. It also prohibits semiautomatic rifles that can take a detachable magazine and have at least two other specific gun features, like a grenade launcher or flash suppressor.
It also prohibits copies or duplicates of assault weapons. For years, the state has interpreted that provision to allow the sale of firearms that Healey says should be banned.
“To us, every citizen should be concerned about this,” Sweeney said. “What’s to stop an AG in Texas from rewriting LGBT law, or whatever right it is you care about. No one person should have this power.”