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AG vows strong defense as gun owners sue to end assault weapons ban

A gun rights group, along with individual gun owners and retailers, is challenging Massachusetts’ 1998 assault weapons ban in federal court, arguing it unconstitutionally infringes on the right to bear arms and improperly bans an entire class of weapons.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by plaintiffs including the Gun Owners Action League, names as defendants Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett, the Massachusetts State Police, and the State Police superintendent, Colonel Richard McKeon.

Healey said she would “vigorously defend” the law and that her office has won Second Amendment challenges in the past.

“This has never been about grabbing guns from people,” Healey said on WGBH Radio. “My actions have never been about taking away guns from people. I respect the Second Amendment, but we have a law on the books, and it’s an important law. It says that civilians can’t walk around with or be in possession of military-style assault weapons, weapons that were made for military use to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. That’s appropriate.”

The complaint argues that with the assault weapons ban and Healey’s crackdown last summer on copies of forbidden guns, “Massachusetts effectively bans the acquisition of the most popular rifles in the nation,” along with standard-capacity ammunition magazines.

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GOAL has vigorously opposed Healey’s July announcement that enforcement of the assault weapons ban would include duplicates of banned guns.

“It’s been a long struggle since July,” said GOAL’s executive director, Jim Wallace. “Our laws were bad enough here in Massachusetts and tough enough to understand . . . and then, suddenly, when we think we had it all figured out, on July 20 we were told we didn’t.”

Healey has said assault weapons are the “weapons of choice for mass shooters” and that manufacturers had evaded the state ban with minor tweaks that do not “address the lethality of the weapons.”

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A Healey spokeswoman said that sales of illegal assault weapons have ended in Massachusetts since the enforcement notice was issued.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation and four Massachusetts gun sellers filed a separate suit in September challenging Healey’s enforcement notice.

The state ban is modeled after an expired federal law that first took effect in 1994.

In addition to GOAL, the plaintiffs are the gun retailers On Target Training of East Bridgewater and Overwatch Outpost of Charlemont, which say they are experiencing “significant loss of income”; gun owners David Worman, Anthony Linden, and Jason Sawyer, who say guns they legally purchased “may be prohibited” under Healey’s enforcement notice; and Nicholas Feld and Paul Chamberlain, who say they wish to purchase banned firearms and magazines.

The suit cites the 2008 Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, which struck down a Washington, D.C., handgun possession ban, to argue against what it describes as a prohibition of “an entire class of popular firearms commonly kept for lawful purposes.”

Healey said she plans to continue her work “protecting public safety and addressing issues of gun violence.”

“Enforcing an assault weapons ban is just one piece of this,” she said.