Stats don't support Massachusetts AG's expanded ban on 'assault weapons'

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Massachusetts’ latest move to expand its assault weapons ban to a new class of rifles is a solution in search of a problem, according to gun rights groups who note the latest annual FBI statistics show not one murder was committed in the Bay State using a rifle of any kind.

State Attorney General Maura Healey announced this week the state’s more than 30-year-old ban on assault weapons would now be expanded to include rifles that look like, or can be modified to perform like, assault rifles. Healey cited recent mass shootings around the nation in recent years, and said expanding the definition of assault rifles would make citizens safer.

“The gun industry has openly defied our laws here in Massachusetts for nearly two decades,” Healey said Wednesday. “That ends today."

"We have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that combat-style weapons are off our streets and out of the hands of those who would use them to kill innocent people," she said. "Increasingly, these guns are the weapon of choice for mass shooters, and we will do everything we can to prevent the kinds of tragedies here that have occurred in places like Orlando, San Bernardino, Newtown and Aurora.”

But critics reacted quickly, noting that FBI Uniform Crime Statistics show zero murders were committed in Massachusetts in 2014 using rifles of any sort. While most mass shootings in the U.S. involved a rifle, the vast majority of gun deaths nationwide did not.

“This is an abuse of power by the Massachusetts attorney general,” said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and founder of the Second Amendment Foundation.

“It is no different than President Obama’s illegal anti-gun executive orders. If these firearms were legal yesterday, they are legal today," Gottlieb said in an email to

"This ban on semi-auto firearms must be stopped before gun prohibitionists in other states try to enact similar bans by fiat," he said.

The debate is the latest example of the long-running argument between Second Amendment purists and gun control advocates about whether new firearms laws make people safer. Indeed, the fact that Massachusetts has so few murders committed using assault weapons could be seen as evidence that the original ban was successful.

The enforcement notice from the attorney general says a weapon is considered a copy or duplicate if its internal operating system is the same as those of a specifically-banned weapon or if the gun has key functional components that are interchangeable with those of a banned weapon.

Such weapons would include copies of the Colt AR-15 and the Kalishnikov AK-47, which are both prohibited by the state's assault weapons ban.

Healey's office claims gun makers produce and sell what they call “state compliant” versions with minor changes to various parts of the weapon. The AG says that an estimated 10,000 copycat assault weapons were sold in the state in 2015.