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Appeals court rejects challenge to Massachusetts assault weapons ban

AR-15s were for sale in Orem, Utah last year. George Frey/Getty Images/Getty Images

A federal appeals court has rejected a challenge to the assault weapons ban in Massachusetts, in what Attorney General Maura Healey called a “defeat for the gun lobby.”

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, on Friday affirmed a federal judge’s ruling that last year dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed by gun advocates and a group of gun retailers.

“This case concerns an issue of paramount importance,” read Friday’s ruling. “In the wake of increasingly frequent acts of mass violence committed with semiautomatic assault weapons and [large-capacity magazines], the interests of state and local governments in regulating the possession and use of such weapons are entitled to great weight.”


Attempts to reach the Gun Owners’ Action League of Massachusetts Friday night were unsuccessful.

Following the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Healey’s office reviewed the Massachusetts assault weapons ban and gun sales in the state. The ban was established by legislation in 1998. In the review, officials determined that gun manufacturers had been ignoring language in the law and promoting guns that were being marketed as copycat iterations of weapons like the AR-15 and the AK-47.

Healey’s office said such guns were being described as “Massachusetts compliant” and that there were more 10,000 of such weapons sold in the state in 2015.

In 2016, she warned gun manufacturers and dealers to stop selling the copycats. In response to that notice, a lawsuit was filed in 2017 that challenged the state’s 1998 ban.

In the suit, gun retailers and advocates argued that the AR-15 rifle, which is banned in Massachusetts, should not be seen as a military-style assault weapon, like the M-16 rifle, because it cannot fire in fully automatic mode.

The suit also challenged Healey’s enforcement notice on the grounds that it could make people who bought duplicate guns before July 2016 vulnerable to prosecution and that it failed to define clearly which guns would be considered duplicates of the AR-15.


In April of last year, a federal judge dismissed the suit, ruling that the Massachusetts ban did not violate the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. The plaintiffs then appealed, challenging the judge’s rejection of their Second Amendment claims.

On Friday, the appeals court affirmed last year’s decision.

“The record contains ample evidence of the unique dangers posed by the proscribed weapons,” read the appeals court ruling.

Healey, in a statement, welcomed Friday’s development.

“Once again, the courts have agreed that the people of Massachusetts have the right to protect themselves, their communities, and their schools by banning these deadly weapons. Today’s decision by the First Circuit is a defeat for the gun lobby and a victory for families across the nation,” she said.

Maria Cramer of Globe staff contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.