It is illegal for the federal government to compile a registry of firearms (NFA items notwithstanding) but it is not considered illegal for states to do the same. Firearms registration has a long and oppressive history, as registration has often been a precursor to confiscation. Perhaps because of this few states keep registries; yet Massachusetts is unfortunately part of this small group, and implements what the state refers to as firearms record keeping of transactions, which is otherwise known as registration. The registration is mandatory, and governs many situations in which individuals buy, sell or trade firearms. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in stiff penalties and loss of ones firearms license.
Historically, firearms registration in one form or another has existed in Massachusetts since 1968, when the forms were referred to as “Blue Cards”. Typically, it seems Massachusetts does not like to refer to its registration requirements as registration, probably in large part because of the negative connotation appropriately attached to firearms registration practices. Instead it has been called a policy of recording transactions when firearms are sold, which sounds much nicer, and is why many ill-informed sources state that Massachusetts does not require firearms registration. Make no mistake however, firearms registration is alive and well in Massachusetts, and has recently been escalated to an even more comprehensive level (more on this later). Simply because the state does not require a permit and paid fee per each firearm does not change the fact that the core tenets of registration are in place; name, address, license and serial number of almost every firearm you buy and sell.
The legal authority and regulations for these practices is found in several locations in the Massachusetts General Laws. Under these laws, in Massachusetts, if you do not have a license to sell firearms in Massachusetts (an FFL) and you engage in the business of selling firearms, that stiff penalties such as a fine of $1,000-10,000 or imprisonment for 1-10 years, or both can be levied against you. Firearm here is meant to indicate a gun manufactured after the year 1899.
Under the Massachusetts gun laws, an individual who is not licensed as an FFL dealer and does not have a firearms license may sell an unlimited number of firearms to certain buyers (licensed individual, FFL dealer etc.). However, because the seller does not have a firearms license, the transaction(s) must go through an FFL dealer and cannot be face-to-face (FTF).
If the seller holds a firearms license, but is not an FFL dealer, that they may sell up to 4 firearms per year to someone other than an FFL dealer (typically a FTF sale). There is no limit for how many transactions may be conducted through an FFL dealer. If an individual wished to sell greater than 4 firearms per year they would need to either become an FFL dealer or conduct subsequent transaction through an FFL dealer. Furthermore, the seller is required to report the sale to Mass. Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) within 7 days, on an FA-10 form.
G.L. c. 140 § 128B is the law that deals with an out-of-MA purchase of rifles and shotguns (federal law prohibits the purchase of handguns outside of a person’s resident state). It requires that you file an FA-10 if you bring the firearm into Massachusetts. That means that should you buy a shotgun out of state, leave it at your vacation home and never bring it into Massachusetts then you do not need to file an FA-10.
Non-residents cannot purchase firearms and ammunition in Massachusetts, “over the counter.” They must go through a FLL in their state.
G.L. c. 140 § 129C determines that it is the seller whom must submit the FA-10 form to the government within 7 days of most types of transactions. I say most because as you will read below, it is those two types of transactions that most gun owners are likely to encounter when they purchase a firearm in-state. There is no legal requirement for a seller to submit an FA-10 in these situations. However, it is important to stress that not in all transaction will it be the seller submitting the FA-10. Sometimes the law will require that the buyer register their firearm on an FA-10 in Massachusetts. These situations are discussed below.
You may be wondering at this point what exactly an FA-10 is; especially if you have been reading carefully and noticed that nowhere in the M.G.Ls are FA-10 forms mentioned. That is because the FA-10 form is the Firearm Records Bureau’s answer to the requirement in §§ 128A and 128B that the seller (or purchaser in certain situations) report information pertinent of the transaction to the CJIS within 7 days. It is therefore the FA-10 that fulfills the registration requirement in Massachusetts. You can view a copy of the FA-10 online.
When you buyer a firearm (new or used) from an FFL dealer (i.e. gun shop) it will be the dealer who submits the FA-10 form. This includes FTF sales that are done through an FFL dealer, as well as firearms you order from another state that are shipped to a Massachusetts FFL.
When two individuals do an FTF (face-to-face) private sale it will be the seller who submits the FA-10 form. Remember that an individual can only sell 4 firearms per calendar year, while private purchases are unlimited.
If you bring a firearm into Massachusetts that you bought out of state you (the buyer) must submit an FA-10 within 7 days of it entering the state. In this situation (as in most situations in which the buyer submits an FA-10) you do not fill in the seller information. Instead you simply submit the form as a registration instead of transaction.
If you build a firearm, you as the builder and owner (i.e. buyer) must submit an FA-10. The legality of building firearms can get very technical, so one endeavoring on such a project should be aware of specific laws regarding their build. For instance, Massachusetts does not view an AR15 receiver as a firearm although the federal government does. So while said receivers are often purchased through FFL dealers per federal law, they need not be registered on an FA-10 until they are assembled into an AR15.