May 1, 2000
Gun Business at a Standstill In Massachusetts, Suit Likely
By Joseph P. Tartaro,
The handgun business in Massachusetts is at a standstill because of the sudden implementation of new regulations by the state attorney general. Gunowners and would-be gunowners cant buy, since both new and used handguns are affected. And every pistol or revolver in a dealers inventory represents a potential $5,000 fine.
It appears that it will take some time before the situation is clarified.
Dealers, distributors and manufacturers are totally confused and apparently get little, if any, help from the attorney generals staff, which deflects rather than answers questions.
Gun dealers in the state and Gun Owners Action League (GOAL) are planning to file suit.
Licensed dealers all across Massachusetts blasted state Attorney General Thomas Reilly at an April 18 press conference hosted by GOAL, saying the states new gun regulations promulgated as consumer protection will do little more than wreck their businesses, according to a report in The Boston Herald.
"This is not a firearms issue. This is a business issue," said Joe Callanan of Roaches Sporting Goods in Cambridge. "This is simply a very clear case of abuse of government authority."
Callanan and other gun dealers say the AGs office has done little to help them understand which firearms are covered by the regulations, The Herald reported.
State of Confusion
An Associated Press report out of Springfield, MA, reflects the same state of confusion.
Gun dealers are clearing their shelves and some gunmakers have been effectively shut out of the Massachusetts market as the nations toughest handgun "safety" regulations take effect, AP reported.
The new rules mandate trigger locks, loaded chamber indicators, magazine disconnects and various other "child-proofing" measures and melting-point/accuracy tests, as well as hidden, "tamper-resistant" serial numbers, on all handguns sold in Massachusetts. The regulations took effect immediately after being announced on April 3, with Reilly promising that his investigators would begin store inspections and enforcement by the middle of April.
Apparently, the Massachusetts AGs office has little acquaintance with the realities of manufacturing. Gun manufacturers cannot put hidden serial numbers on guns by waving a magic wand. If the regulations are read as strictly as Reilly claims they will be, even high quality pistols with loaded chamber indicators, magazine disconnects and trigger locks that dont have hidden serial numbers would be ineligible for display and sale in the state.
The only new handguns that can be sold in Massachusetts under the new "consumer protection" regulations are some models made by Springfield, MA-based Smith & Wesson. Apparently, Smith & Wesson was engraving the hidden serial numbers on some guns before the regulations took effect. However, the companys entire Sigma series and many other models are not legal for sale in the Bay State.
That means even the high-end models of Berettas, Glocks, H&Ks, SIG-Sauers and Taurus pistols used by police, the military and government agents would not pass muster if they were being sold to the general public.
Killing Small Dealers
"Its killing the small dealers," said Vincent DelValle, manager of Strictly Defense in West Springfield, according to AP. "We are stuck with thousands of dollars in guns we cant sell."
Used handguns, police sidearms and models made before September 1998 are exempt from the regulations that went into effect after manufacturers, including Smith & Wesson, lost a two-year court fight to stop them.
Attorney General Reilly realizes many gun manufacturers dont meet the regulations yet.
"It is our hope that all companies will comply," said Ann Donlan, a spokeswoman for Reilly. "But there is no going back as far as we are concerned."
The other major gunmakers say theyve been sidelined by such things as how many serial numbers are now required on the firearm and the minimum force needed to pull the trigger.
"Its in the details," said Gary Mehalik, marketing manager for Miami-based Taurus, which has been selling pistols equipped with an internal trigger lock since 1997. "We are able to comply in most regards."
Trigger pull weight is another factor that is included in the state regulations.
Taurus and Glock, which makes the guns that Boston police carry, and SIG-Sauer which arms the Massachusetts state police have all run afoul of a requirement that it take at least 10 pounds of force to pull the trigger.
In part because more women are buying guns, most guns are now sold with a trigger pull of 4 to 6 pounds, with target pistols having pulls as light as 2 pounds.
Richard Callaghan, of Callaghans Firearms in Marlboro, is one of several gun dealers who have pulled all their new handguns off the shelves in response to the new regulations.
There may be some room for interpretation of the new regulations, but Callaghan is taking no chances.
"I am not going to jeopardize my business and life savings for a fast buck," he said.
The Herald quoted Michale Yacino, executive director of GOAL, as saying that with the exception of some firearms manufactured by Smith & Wesson, "there are no handguns that can clearly be legally purchased today in Massachusetts.
"Youre talking about millions of dollars of inventory the state has turned into contraband," he said. "Citizens should find a state-created monopoly very troubling."
When apprized of dealer complaints and plans to sue, Reilly came up with an even more troubling response, suggesting that instead of suing him, they should be suing the gun manufacturers. His suggestion would throw the already chaotic legal situation with respect to guns into total turmoil.
"Theyve known for a long time this day was coming," Reilly said. "The duty is really on the manufacturer to provide. . . handguns that meet these regulations. They (the dealers) should be at the gun manufacturers complaining. The duty should be on the manufacturer to take these guns back and get them out of here."
Indeed, there were reportsunconfirmed as this column was writtenthat some distributors and/or manufacturers were accepting returns of handguns from dealers in Massachusetts. One assumes that aside from the expenses involved in the exchange that the guns could then be sold in other states.
But dealers, who want to stay in business in Massachusetts, are still faced with the problem of replacing prohibited guns with others that will conform to the new regulations.
Paul Jannuzzo, vice president and general counsel for Glock, said, according to AP, that his company may send special models to Massachusetts if distributors are interested.
Beretta stopped shipment into Massachusetts for just one reason: Its guns do not have a second hidden serial number.
A spokesman for Beretta USA, based in Accokeek, MD, said Beretta had been trying to comply with requirements in the states 1998 gun law, which are exceeded and superseded by the new consumer protection regulations.
"Unfortunately, everyone is styling themselves as experts in gun design and we are on the brink of ending up with a confused mix of state, local and federal laws," he said.
Even within the official bureaucracy of Massachusetts things are confusing.
Aides to Jane Perlov, the states secretary of public safety, say Perlov is drawing up her own list of acceptable firearms based on the less-stringent provisions of the 1998 law. That could include guns that would not be acceptable under the attorney generals new regulations.
The consumers of firearms, who never asked for the AGs protection, and who are now unable to buy the guns they want, are stuck in the middle.
There is, of course, the prospect that the state legislature will step in and do something to bring reality to the situation. Consumers didnt want many of the features, or couldnt afford them.
But the ambitious attorneys general of the Bay State apparently believe that consumers dont know whats good for themand shouldnt even be asked.
Maybe some of those consumers will make their voices heard during a scheduled Gun Owners Action League rally planned for April 24 at the statehouse.
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