G.L. c. 140, § 131L, makes it unlawful to store a rifle, machine gun, shotgun, or firearm that is not carried by or under the immediate control of the owner or other authorized user unless the firearm is secured in a locked container or equipped with a safety device that renders the firearm inoperable by anyone other than the owner or other authorized user.
A firearm is under the owner’s immediate control when the owner is sufficiently nearby to immediately prevent an unauthorized person from using it. When the owner is carrying the firearm or he can immediately reach it, the gun is not required to be secured. Therefore, with a License to Carry Firearms (LTC), it is lawful to carry a loaded firearm in your home or to keep unsecured, so long as it is under your immediate control.
Firearms, rifles, shotguns, and machine guns must be securely locked only when not being carried or when the owner does not have immediate control over the firearms, so as to prevent their unauthorized use. It is not enough to simply “store” the firearm. Instead, it must be “securely” stored. This means that the firearm must be placed in a locked container which would physically prevent a child or other unauthorized person from using it. Locking the firearm with a mechanical “trigger lock” or other tamper resistant mechanical device will also satisfy the safe storage law, so long as the weapon is rendered inoperable to anyone but the owner or authorized user.
It might be possible to have a room or closet considered a “locked container.” However, the “contained” must be sufficiently secured. In one case where rifles were stored in a bedroom closet, which was secured only by a privacy lock which could be easily opened with a bobby pin, it was determined that the “container” was not secure enough to satisfy G.L. c. 140, § 131L.
Lawful gun owners should be aware of the secure storage requirements of G.L. c. 140, § 131L and insure that their weapons are properly secured against theft and misuse.
Bill D., one of our readers, asked “Did the District Of Columbia v. Heller decision affect the Mass. law regarding keeping firearms locked up and effectively useless?” The answer is that the Massachusetts secure storage law does not violate the rule announced by the United States Supreme Court in the Heller case. In Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual the right to a firearm in the home for self-defense. In McDonald v. Chicago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment is applicable to the States, such as Massachusetts.
Because G.L. c. 140 Sec. 131L “does not require that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times” and “does not make it impossible for those persons licensed to possess firearms to rely on them for lawful self-defense,” there is no violation of the standard announced in Heller. So long as you are carrying the firearm or you have it under your immediate control, you can keep a loaded firearm in your home. Thus, you can use a firearm for self-defense in accordance with your 2nd Amendment right.