It took more than twenty years, but finally a public figure with brains, leadership and guts has demolished the NRA’s most sacred cow in one fell swoop. I am referring to yesterday’s announcement by Maura Healey, the Massachusetts Attorney General, that assault rifle are no longer welcome in the Bay State. If you own an assault rifle you can keep it (thank goodness because I own three,) but if you want to buy one from a dealer, or if a gun dealer wants to buy one from a wholesaler or manufacturer, that’s not going to happen any more.
The Enforcement Notice issued by Healey’s office restates the definition and description of ‘assault weapon’ incorporated into the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban law, but then prohibits guns from being sold in Massachusetts which meets either a ‘similarity test’ or an ‘interchangeability test’ which basically means an AR without a flash hider, a folding or telescoping stock, or a pistol grip; in other words, if it looks and acts like an AR, it is an AR, extra doo-dads or not. What the AG has done is fashion a legal directive based on the ‘I know it when I see it’ reasoning used by Associate Justice Potter Stewart for deciding pornography cases that came before the Supreme Court.
To understand the gist of Healey’s approach, however, you have to consider the history surrounding the original Assault Weapons Ban. Because recall that the 1994 law expired after ten years, but states that wanted to maintain it could opt out of the expiration, of which Massachusetts was one of seven states which continued the ban. But the 1994 law didn’t ban assault rifles; it banned assault rifles that contained certain design features, such as pistol grips, bayonet lugs, flash hiders and so forth, none of which in any way reduced the lethality of these guns.
What makes the AR design so exceptionally lethal, what makes the AR a weapon of war, is that the manner in which the stock lines up against the bolt and the receiver, the manner in which high-capacity magazines can be dismounted and remounted within the gun and the manner in which the gun can then be charged after receiving a new, fully-loaded magazine allows the operator to get off as many as 60 shots of deadly military ammunition in one minute or less.
Why do I call the AR a weapon of war? Because the AR used by battle-zone troops today can be shot in the same semi-auto mode that makes the gun legal for civilian sales. Yes, the military gun also allows for three-shot bursts, and it is the selective-fire feature of the military rifle, the M4, which is touted again and again by Gun-nut Nation as the essential reason why the AR is nothing other than a ‘modern sporting rifle,’ which is no more lethal or dangerous than any other semi-automatic rifle lugged by a hunter or sportsman into the woods. So does this mean that if a trooper on the battlefield decides to set his rifle in semi-auto mode, that he’s now carrying a ‘sporting’ gun?
This totally fabricated crap about how the AR isn’t lethal has set the tone for Gun-nut Nation’s approach to all guns. The issue of gun lethality, not just for the AR, but for all small arms, has been pushed aside in favor of an argument which tries to create the fiction that guns are only dangerous if they get into the ‘wrong’ hands. When guns are carried by law-abiding, armed citizens, they represent an important, indeed indispensable tool for insuring safety and security of all.
Maura Healey’s announcement is a resounding shot across the bow because it sweeps away the rhetorical nonsense cynically foisted on the public to disguise the fact that some guns are simply too dangerous to be put in anyone’s hands. Which is why the AR is not a sporting rifle, because no sporting gun requires a magazine that holds 30 rounds.