and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
January 2002 #3

Reilly is only the latest AG whose mission is
to protect us from ourselves

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Tuesday, January 15, 2002

So on Jan. 6 in Boston, a guy tried to shoot another guy, saying "This is where you die tonight."

But the gun misfired. The almost-victim called the police and the almost-killer was arrested.

Darn it, when you buy a gun and try to kill someone with it, you should be able to count on the gun going off and doing the job! Where is consumer advocate Tom Reilly when you need him?

The Attorney General's predecessor, Scott Harshbarger, declared that guns were a consumer issue so he could bypass the Legislature and simply do gun control with regulations instead of laws. Not that any gun consumers had been complaining: The guns they bought for target practice, hunting, or self defense seemed to work as advertised.

If a gun misfired when it was supposed to save a victim's life, the family would have a legitimate consumer complaint, it seems to me. But lacking an example of unreliability, what was the AG doing promulgating regulations that have been driving Massachusetts gun dealerships out of business?

The Harshbarger regs, which are presently being implemented by Attorney General Reilly, were designed -- according to the AG's press release -- to impact the sale of "cheap poorly made handguns comprised of inferior materials". So far so good; I certainly wouldn't want to spend my hard-earned money on a .38 Special made of used Firestone tires that were turned in after the recall.

But according to a report released last week by the Gun Owners Action League (GOAL), "the regulations are instead keeping out of the Commonwealth, high quality firearms used by law enforcement officers, members of the military reserve, sportsmen and even Olympic athletes."

The AG is preventing public safety officers from purchasing, in Massachusetts, the guns required to protect us from terrorists? How can this be?

The title of the GOAL report explains how. "Regulatory Fraud, a Calculated Deception against the People of the Commonwealth" is "an investigation into the Massachusetts Attorney General's regulation on handguns." After obtaining 24,000 pages of material through the Freedom of Information Act, GOAL determined that the AG used "unfair and deceptive tactics to create the regulations."

This accusation is backed up by internal memos from the AG's director of communications, Ed Cafasso, to the staffers who were writing the regs. Apparently concerned about his ability to respond to questions from reporters, Cafasso asked what he called "some relevant questions."

These are just four: "Is this the best that the AG has to offer?"; "(He) is going to try to fight violent crime with a consumer regulation used against mattress discounters...?"; "Why would any criminal take this seriously, given the existing criminal laws?"; and "Are we just looking for headlines here?"

Later, apparently getting no response to his original questions, Cafasso sent another memo in which he said, "I consider the idea of banning Saturday Night Specials to be an incredible publicity stunt that will not only subject the Attorney General to unnecessary criticism (and in some cases, derisive laughter), but also prove to be absolutely worthless from a consumer protection and law enforcement perspective."

When the regs appeared in July 1996 they did not contain the words "Saturday Night Special." But the provisions effectively banned the sale of not only guns that had fallen into this category but, according to the GOAL report, "Glock and Beretta are not even selling or shipping the same handguns used by the military and our own law enforcement personnel (to Massachusetts dealers) ... Many firearms distributors are not clear as to what will and will not comply. Many have refused to ship any handguns into Massachusetts due to the heavy fines involved for noncompliant guns ($5,000 per gun) and the Attorney General's unwillingness to make any clarifications in writing."

Unfortunately, the answer to one of Cafasso's questions is that yes, the AG's office was just looking for headlines, and he got them. Much of the media and members of the public who don't know a Saturday Night Special, whatever that is, from an assault rifle, whatever that is, were apparently impressed by the idea that Harshbarger, and now Reilly, were protecting us, whoever we are, from something, whatever it is.

Here in Massachusetts, no incredible publicity stunt goes unrewarded and Harshbarger was almost elected governor and is now running Common Cause in Washington. Reilly continues to spend taxpayer dollars to save us consumers from our own guns, tobacco, Bill Gates, and whoever is trying to buy the Red Sox. No doubt he will soon be saving us from fast food franchises, again with no input from our elected representatives.

And somewhere, a criminal shoots someone with an illegally-purchased gun that doesn't misfire, and the AG does nothing at all to prevent that.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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