Federal court upholds Massachusetts ban on assault weapons

 Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

BY ANNA KANE ’20

On April 6, U.S. District Judge William Young rejected a gun lobby challenge to the Massachusetts Assault Weapons Ban. The lawsuit was dismissed due to Young’s ruling that assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment and go beyond citizens’ right to bear arms, according to WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station. 

In January, the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts (GOAL) challenged the assault weapons ban, arguing that the law is unconstitutional and improperly limits an entire class of weapons to people. GOAL cited Attorney General Maura Healey, Governor Charlie Baker, Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett and Colonel Richard McKeon, state police Superintendent. 

“Upholding the assault weapons ban vindicates the right of the people of Massachusetts to protect themselves from these weapons of war and my office’s efforts to enforce the law,” said Healey in a statement released on April 6. “Strong gun laws save lives, and we will not be intimidated by the gun lobby in our efforts to end the sale of assault weapons and protect our communities and schools. Families across the country should take heart in this victory.” 

In 1998, Massachusetts passed an assault weapons ban modeled after a federal ban from 1994 that had been allowed to expire after its 10 year deadline in 2004.  The Massachusetts version was created to separate federal definitions from state definitions, as state lawmakers feared that if the federal law expired the state law would follow suit. 

Following Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub shooting that killed 49 people in June 2016, Healey’s office examined Massachusetts gun laws and sales. In July of that year, the office of the attorney general issued an enforcement notice to provide clarification on the Massachusetts Assault Weapons Ban. After the passage of the law in 1998, manufacturers soon found a loophole and began to create “duplicates” and “copies” of the banned weapons. The copies were manufactured with small differences in operating components and were marketed as “Massachusetts compliant.” 

In 2015, more than 10,000 copies of popular assault weapons such as AR-15s and AK-47s were sold in Massachusetts alone, according to a statement issued by Healey’s office on April 6. Since the 2016 notice to dealers stating that enforcement of the ban would be upheld, the sale of illegal weapons has effectively ended in the state of Massachusetts.

Jen Matos, Mount Holyoke professor of psychology and education, is known by her students for being passionate and outspoken about gun control laws, especially in light of school shootings. While Matos supports individuals exercising their Second Amendment rights, she feels that guns only belong in the hands of sensible gun owners who pass background checks and lock their weapons up properly. 

“What I don’t understand is why any civilian would need an assault weapon. We have seen assault weapons used in school shootings, and there has been renewed debate over gun laws, background checks, assault weapons and arming teachers,” said Matos. “As a teacher, I don’t support the presence of firearms in my classroom, nor do I support the presence of firearms in the hands of my daughter’s preschool teachers.”

The upholding of the assault weapons ban in Massachusetts comes just weeks after the March for Our Lives, held across the nation on March 24. The march, with a platform focused on working toward universal and comprehensive background checks and the banning of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, was born in response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, after countless other mass shootings. 

Satellite marches were held all over the country, including Washington, D.C., Boston and Northampton. A demonstration held in South Hadley was organized by the Mount Holyoke College Democrats and the Five College Model United Nations, with participation from many Mount Holyoke students and community members.

Gun control has been an important issue for Mount Holyoke College Democrats. Besides their involvement in the March for Our Lives demonstration in South Hadley, the student organization has tabled in Blanchard to encourage students to call their representatives about specific bills. 

“I was really happy to hear about the upholding of the ban,” said Mount Holyoke College Democrats Vice President Lily James ’21. “I especially appreciate Healey’s emphasis on not being intimidated by the gun lobby. This issue is really important, and I am really glad to live in a state that believes in keeping its constituents safe.” 

Anna Ballou ’20, public relations officer for Mount Holyoke College Republicans, expressed concern about the ruling by Judge Young, worrying that it gives the attorney general an immense amount of power to interpret laws according to personal values. 

“I think that it also boils down to a person’s definition of the right to bear arms and what, exactly, defines an ‘arm,’” she said. “In upholding the weapons ban, the federal judge eliminated assault weapons, AR-15s and large capacity magazines from the definition.” 

As the United States continues the debate over gun control, questions of how to enforce and uphold current laws remain. Suggestions have included the arming of teachers, more police presence, stricter gun laws and more comprehensive definitions for assault weapons. 

Matos, however, does not see the solution to gun violence as people having more guns. “Currently, our individual right to bear arms outweighs the right of our children to have a safe educational environment, and the right to a childhood,” she said. “Teaching children how to hide from an active shooter is now a part of our national curriculum — we each have to consider if this is something that we are willing to live with.”

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