Attorney General Maura Healey has launched a sweeping investigation into possible safety problems involving guns manufactured by at least two major companies, Remington and Glock, according to lawsuits filed by both firms, which are fighting Healey’s efforts.
The lawsuits reveal that this year, Healey invoked her powers under the state’s consumer protection law to demand that both companies turn over a wide range of documents, including safety-related complaints from customers and the companies’ responses.
The investigation is the second prominent battle Healey is waging against the gun industry. In July, she angered gun owners and manufacturers when she moved to bar the sale of military-style rifles that have been altered slightly to evade the state’s ban on assault weapons.
In her newly disclosed legal action, Healey argues Glock firearms are “prone to accidental discharge” and makes clear in court papers that she is concerned the company may have been warned about the problem and failed to act.
Responding to Glock’s lawsuit, she referenced news stories about a sheriff's deputy accidentally firing a Glock pistol in San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, a Los Angeles police officer who was paralyzed from the waist down after his 3-year-old son accidentally fired his Glock pistol, and a Massachusetts man who was dancing at a July 4th party when his Glock handgun fired while it was in his pocket.
A Healey spokeswoman said the attorney general is asking gun manufacturers to turn over customer safety complaints because firearms are one of the only products not regulated by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“As the chief law enforcement office in Massachusetts, we are seeking that information to better inform our residents and to protect them from any safety or manufacturing issues with guns sold here,” Cyndi Roy Gonzalez said. “It’s unfortunate that these gun manufacturers have taken our office to court rather than comply with a simple request for consumer complaints and related information.”
Both Remington and Glock have sued Healey in Suffolk Superior Court, arguing that she is abusing her authority by casting a broad net for documents, including those related to accidental discharges, past lawsuits, legal settlements, and product recalls.
Glock Inc.’s lawsuit asks the court to quash Healey’s inquiry.
The company, based in Smyrna, Ga., points to statements Healey has made calling gun violence a “public health crisis” and an “epidemic” to argue the “true purpose” of her investigation is “to harass an industry that the attorney general finds distasteful and to make political headlines by pursing members of the firearm industry.”
Healey responds in court papers that Glock’s contention that she is politically motivated is “both incorrect and irrelevant,” given the concerns she has about the company’s handguns firing accidentally. She also says the state’s consumer protection law clearly gives her the authority to investigate safety concerns about products, including guns, that are available in Massachusetts.
Glocks can be sold only to law enforcement officers in Massachusetts, because consumer sales are banned under state law. As such, Glock argues, Healey is misusing her investigative powers “for the ulterior purpose of harassing an out-of-state company that does not engage in in-state consumer sales.”
But Healey says that, despite the state’s ban, 10,000 Glocks were sold in Massachusetts between January 2014 and August 2015, including 8,000 to buyers who do not appear to be law-enforcement officers. She said the handguns ended up in the hands of Massachusetts consumers “irrespective of whether the sales were made legally or not.”
“The investigation is appropriate,” Healey’s office writes in its rebuttal to Glock, because Glock may have liability under the state’s consumer protection law for “product defects, misleading marketing, and for failure to honor warranties.”
Remington Arms Co., based in Madison, N.C., contends Healey’s investigation is “unreasonable and excessively burdensome” because she is seeking product files from every state and country, even though fewer than 1 percent of the files relate to Massachusetts customers.
Because Healey’s office “has provided virtually no information concerning the subject or object of its investigation, one cannot imagine what possible relevance product service files from Hawaii or Manitoba, Canada, could have on the AG’s investigation in Massachusetts,” Remington states in its lawsuit, filed Monday.
Remington is asking the court to limit the scope of Healey’s investigation and allow it to remove customer information from the documents it turns over.
If customer information is not removed, the company argues, its customers’ privacy rights would be violated, conduct protected by the Second Amendment would be chilled, and Remington’s business would be harmed.
Healey has not yet responded in court to Remington’s accusations.
Healey’s court papers, however, indicate that Remington and Glock are not the only gun makers she is targeting. Both are “part of a larger series of similar gun safety investigations,” Healey’s office wrote.
Healey, a Democrat who took office last year, has made reducing gun violence a top issue — a crusade that has won her support from national gun-control advocates and the ire of gun owners and gun rights groups.
In December, she warned the state’s 350 licensed gun dealers that they must obey the state’s strict gun laws and began investigating several dealers suspected of selling illegal firearms.
In May, she led a dozen attorneys general in calling on Congress to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun deaths as a public health issue.
A day later, she spoke at a White House gun violence summit, where she decried the legal immunity Congress has granted to gun makers.
“This is the only product of its kind for which Congress has given the industry extensive freedom from liability,” she said at the White House. “That’s not right. The gun industry should be held to the same liability standards as the manufacturers and sellers of other consumer products.”
In July, she drew national attention when she moved to bar sales of so-called copcyat assault rifles that had been modified slightly to evade the state’s 1998 assault weapons ban.
Gun enthusiasts snapped up the rifles in a buying frenzy, and then protested outside the State House.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, meanwhile, said it would challenge Healey’s ban in court, arguing it hurt gun dealers and “made potential felons out of tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens.”Michael Levenson
can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.