When the Attorney General of Massachusetts decided to reinterpret a two decade-old law, essentially banning the sale and transfer of most semiautomatic rifles in the Commonwealth, law-abiding citizens were made to feel like criminals overnight. Whereas Massachusetts currently has a law that essentially mirrors the now defunct Federal “Assault Weapons” ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004, modern sporting rifles could still be purchased as long as they met the law’s guidelines.
AG Healy’s decree turned the Massachusetts “Assault Weapons” ban from a law that prohibited certain firearm features, to an outright ban on nearly all semi-auto rifles. Items like flash hiders and collapsible stocks that were prohibited on rifles manufactured after a certain date were no longer the issue: now every rifle patterned after a gun on the states ban list was illegal, even if they possessed none of the features listed in the original law.
Since July 20th, organizations like Gun Owners Action League and the Commonwealth Second Amendment have lead the charge in the fight against the AG’s new interpretations – both in the legislature and in the courts.
Recently, a friend of TFB, a manufacturer who will remain nameless, stepped forward with some interesting information regarding repairs of currently held, legal AR15-patterned rifles. Specifically, this manufacturer was curious about the process to repair their rifles owned by citizens of Massachusetts prior to the AG’s cut off date. The manufacturer wrote:
When MA enacted their new definition that banned a bunch of stuff on July 20th, I contacted them regarding warranty repairs and replacement firearms. We’ve seen issues with replacement firearms in NY & CT for items that got banned, and if a new serial number is required, we typically are not permitted to replace the firearm under the state law level. So, on July 20th, I contacted the MA AG office with this email:
My name is JOHN DOE and I am the compliance officer for ACME, a firearms manufacturer from ANYTOWN, USA. As a manufacturer, we offer warranty service repairs to consumers who have purchased our firearms from gun dealers in your state. Occasionally, a firearm will require replacement which involves a new receiver and a different or new serial number. If a consumer owns one of the firearms that now fall under the copy/duplicates verbiage released by the AG today and we must destroy their receiver/serial number due to failure or under the guns warranty and replace it with a new serial number, is that permitted under this new policy?
Essentially consumer A purchased one of our AR-15 style firearms last year, so that firearm is grandfathered under the new policy per the statements released. Next week, the consumer contacts us to send the firearm in for repair and when we review it, we discover that there is a defect in it that will require us to replace the gun under our warranty. This will require transferring a new serial number from our A&D to a dealer who then must transfer the new serial number to the consumer. Will warranty replacements be exempt from this new rule? For your reference I have attached the warranty replacement policy offered by Maryland, which allows us to still provide warranty service to our customers there despite us not being able to have any new items in their state.
Although we may disagree on these new regulations, ACME is committed to complying 100% with all Federal and State level laws. We do respectfully ask you to consider some means of identifying a way for us to be able to continue to service our customers in your state in the event of a replacement firearm from the manufacturer under warranty. It does and will happen. With today’s announcement, we are putting a temporary hold on firearms being shipped into our facility from MA while we await clarification on how MA wishes manufacturers and consumers to handle warranty issues. Until such information is provided, we will be referring consumers in MA who own our products to contact your office for guidance.
Thank you, I am sure you are receiving a lot of emails, but I hope to hear back from you soon.
A few days later, the large manufacturer received a response from the MA AG’s Office via a phone call:
The gentleman from the AG’s office told me that with the change to the definition of a copy, that a serial number not grandfathered prior to the effective date of the definition change cannot be transferred into the state. So, if an AR is broken it cannot be replaced with a new AR. He told me that the only option for us is to replace the firearm with something not banned in MA or to refund the customer.
The company representative explained to the MA AG’s office that, because of the way retail and distributor pricing works, a refund to the customer is not possible. In addition, since the manufacturer doesn’t produce a rifle that is Massachusetts compliant (no manufacturer offers such a product as far as we can tell) a replacement was not an option either. A few days later, the MA AG’s office called the manufacturer back with additional information:
The MA Attorney General’s office called me back today and let me know that they have taken our concern regarding warranty repairs and replacement of broken firearms under advisement and have updated their FAQ to indicate that weapons now tied to the enumerated list CAN be sent by MA residents to us for repair or replacement with a different serial number as long as the firearm was owned by the resident prior to July 20th, 2016. The FAQ can be found on this site: http://www.mass.gov/ago/public-safety/awbe.html by scrolling down half way and clicking the Q&A button. Here is the dialogue from the Q&A:
Q: May I return a weapon covered by the Enforcement Notice to a manufacturer after July 20, 2016 for repairs or replacement under warranty? Any may the manufacturer return it to me thereafter?
Yes. If you purchased the weapon prior to July 20, 2016 you may return the weapon to the manufacturer, who may then return it to you after repairs are complete.
I would call this a small victory, but allowing a MA resident to get a legally-owned rifle repaired should be a no-brainer. Still, thanks and gratitude should be given to that anonymous manufacturer for getting the FAQ changed and following through on behalf of the consumer.
The question remains: How many other unintended (intended?) consequences await Commonwealth gun owners in a law that was reinterpreted by one individual without warning or recourse?