By Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Licensed gun owners and a group dedicated to firearms rights protected under the Second Amendment filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Attorney General Martha Coakley, alleging her office has tolerated ambiguously defined regulations in an effort to suppress Massachusetts sales of the popular Glock handgun.
Commonwealth Second Amendment (Comm2A) sued Coakley in U.S. District Court in Boston, with six consumer and two commercial plaintiffs requesting a preliminary injunction that the group's president says would prevent her office from taking any action against a Massachusetts gun dealer for selling Glock handguns.
A Coakley spokesman said she plans to defend the regulations "to protect public safety."
The suit alleges that gun regulations put in place in 1998 under former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger are "unconstitutionally vague and ambiguous" because they fail to define "load indicator," a design requirement under the regulations for handguns sold in Massachusetts.
The plaintiffs, licensed firearms owners who wish to purchase Glock pistols or retailers who want to sell them, claim Coakley has declared Glock handguns lack an "effective" load indicator even though regulations fail to specify how the device is supposed to function or what it is intended to do.
According to Comm2A, certain Glock pistols have an "extractor-based load indicator" that is virtually identical to guns made by other manufacturers that are legal in Massachusetts.
Brent Carlton, president and co-founder of Comm2A, told the News Service Thursday the suit was not filed as a reaction to enforcement of the regulation, but instead to the "ongoing threat of enforcement" and the lack of clarity over what might represent an "unfair or deceptive" act under the consumer protection-based gun regulations.
Carlton said plaintiffs who have contacted the attorney general's office seeking guidance on the regulations have been advised that the attorney general's office doesn't give legal advice, or that they should consult their attorneys or contact a gun manufacturer.
"This case is really about interpretation of the regulations and her refusal to do so," said Carlton, who added that he believes the objective of the regulation "is to suppress handgun sales, period."
A Coakley spokesman released a brief statement to the News Service Thursday in response to news of the lasuit. "The Attorney General maintains comprehensive regulations on gun manufacturers, and for good reason. We intend to defend these regulations to protect public safety," spokesman Christopher Loh said.
The lawsuit itself includes a response from the attorney general to a request from plaintiffs wondering whether certain Glock pistols comply with the regulations. The response said, "The handguns presently manufactured by Glock, Inc. ("Glock") are not in compliance with the Massachusetts Handgun Sales Regulations, because they lack an effective load indicator or magazine safety disconnect. This Office notified Glock of this fact in 2004, and since that time Glock has not notified this Office of any change in the features of their firearms nor attempted to certify any firearm model as compliant with the Massachusetts Handgun Sales Regulations. Therefore, newly manufactured Glock handguns may not be transferred by a handgun dealer to a Massachusetts civilian."
In another letter, according to the suit, the attorney general said, "Handgun dealers in Massachusetts have clear information on this point from Glock, EOPSS, and this Office, and are operating on more than the 'rumor and speculation' you refer to in your letter when they inform prospective purchasers that Glock firearms cannot legally be sold to civilians in Massachusetts."
According to the suit, Glock enjoys a 65 percent market share of all handguns used by law enforcement agencies in the United States and "many" Massachusetts police departments issue Glock pistols to their officers. The suit describes Glock handguns as "extremely popular self-defense firearms because of their simplicity and reliability, contributing to the fulfillment of the central purpose of the Second Amendment right."
The suit comes as Coakley battles with four competitors running for governor. They're each preparing for this weekend's Democratic Party convention in Worcester, where one or more of the candidates could fail to achieve enough delegate support to qualify for the September primary ballot.
Beacon Hill lawmakers are also reviewing new legislation offered by House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Supporters of that bill believe it could lead to a reduction in gun violence while opponents, including legal gun owners, say portions of the bill are misguided and are calling for changes to the legislation.
The commercial plaintiffs in the suit are firearms dealers Concord Armory LLC and Woburn-based Precision Point Firearms LLC. Glock Inc. is located in Smyrna, Georgia.