Attorney General Healey battling on guns, global warming
BOSTON (AP) — Midway through her second year in office, Attorney General Maura Healey finds herself fighting two very different battles on two very different fronts — one in the state’s gun shops and a second in the halls of Congress.
Both battles are helping cement her reputation as a top Democrat law enforcement office willing to use the levers of power in her office to battle what she sees as potential threats — near and long-term — to the safety of Bay State residents.
Along the way she’s incurred the wrath of critics who charge her with overstepping her authority.
The latest kerfuffle blew up earlier this month after Healey announced a crackdown on what she described as copycat weapons that violate the state’s 1998 assault weapons ban.
Healey sent an enforcement notice to gun sellers and manufacturers clarifying what constitutes a “copy” or “duplicate” weapon, including copies of the Colt AR-15 and the Kalashnikov AK-47. She said an estimated 10,000 copycat assault weapons were sold in Massachusetts last year.
Healey’s stepped-up enforcement followed the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last month that claimed the lives of 49 patrons.
Almost immediately, gun rights advocates began pushing back. Hundreds turned out for a rally in front of the Statehouse waiving “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. Dozens of Massachusetts lawmakers also wrote to Healey saying she took action unilaterally and with little notice for gun dealers and owners.
Then Republican Gov. Charlie Baker asked Healey to clarify the enforcement notice, warning that “ambiguities in your notice require clarification for responsible gun owners who simply want to follow the rules and for the thousands of gun owners who were told they were following the rules for 18 years.”
Healey’s office pushed back, saying the comments from Baker and Baker’s Secretary of Public Safety Dan Bennett mirror statements by the gun lobby and that since the enforcement notice was sent, the state has a seen “a dramatic decline in assault weapon sales.”
On Thursday, Healey’s most recent predecessors — former Democratic attorney generals Martha Coakley, Thomas Reilly, Scott Harshbarger, James Shannon and Francis Bellotti — said her actions were “constitutional, lawful, and consistent with the duties and responsibilities of her office.”
Healey said the new rule won’t be enforced against gun owners who bought or sold the weapons prior to the notice being sent out.
The second clash for Healey came over a very different threat: global warming.
This past week, Healey and her counterpart in New York — fellow Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — refused to comply with congressional subpoenas seeking records about their investigations into whether Exxon Mobil misled investors about man-made climate change.
The refusal was part of an escalating political fight with the Republican chairman of the House Science Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas.
Smith is seeking records from Healey and Schneiderman along with nine environmental, scientific and philanthropic organizations.
In a similar letter sent Tuesday, Healey declined to comply with the subpoena. Her chief counsel Richard Johnston wrote that it’s “an unconstitutional and unwarranted interference with a legitimate ongoing state investigation.”
Massachusetts filed its formal request for Exxon documents in April.
Smith has accused the attorneys generals of chilling scientific free speech with their investigations.
“The committee has a responsibility to protect First Amendment rights of companies, academic institutions, scientists and nonprofit organizations,” Smith said earlier this month. “That is why the committee is obligated to ask for information from the attorneys general and others.”
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has rushed to defend Healey.
In a series of tweets, the Massachusetts Democrat called Smith’s pursuit of documents “an outrageous abuse of Congressional subpoena power to threaten a state AG and help a campaign contributor.”
Warren added: “Let me offer you a word of advice, @LamarSmithTX21 & your @exxonmobil buddies: you picked a fight with the wrong state & the wrong AG.