Secure Storage Requirements of G.L. c. 140, § 131L

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.

The Massachusetts High Capacity Magazine Ban

A so-called “high capacity” magazine is an ammunition feeding device which accepts, or can be easily modified to accept, more than ten rounds of ammunition or more than five shotgun shells. It is also that which is defined as such by 18 USC 921(a)(31), as it appeared when the federal so-called “assault weapon” ban was passed on September 13, 1994. Although the federal ban has since expired, the Massachusetts “high capacity” magazine ban lives on. Tubular .22 caliber ammunition feeding devices are not considered high capacity magazines.

The mere possession of a high capacity magazine without a Class A License to Carry Firearms is a crime. Also, for the possession of a high capacity feeding device by a non-law enforcement official to be lawful, it must have been lawfully owned or manufactured prior to September 13, 1994.  In Massachusetts, it is unlawful for a private citizen to own a high capacity magazine which was not lawfully possessed prior to that date.

G.L. c. 140 § 131M makes it a felony to “sell, offer for sale, transfer or possess” a high capacity ammunition feeding device or magazine that was not lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994. There is an exemption for active duty and retired law enforcement officers. These magazines may be referred to as “post ban” magazines, with those being lawfully possessed prior to September 13, 1994 being referred to as pre-ban magazines.

Carrying Firearms, Rifles, & Shotguns in Vehicles

You can only carry a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle if you have a Class A License to Carry Firearms (LTC) and it is under your direct control. A person who has a Class B LTC cannot carrying it in a motor vehicle. Instead, it must be unloaded and held in the vehicle’s locked trunk or a locked case or other secure container. A large capacity rifle or shotgun must also be unloaded and secured in the car’s locked trunk, a locked case, or a secure container. The prohibition against loaded large capacity rifles and shotguns in vehicles applies regardless of the type of license which a person has. Even Class A LTC holders cannot carry loaded large capacity rifles and shotguns in their vehicles. Weapons not carried under the owner’s direct control with a Class A LTC must be secured in a case, container or trunk to satisfy the law. A trigger lock will not satisfy the “container” requirement. However, a locked and secure car trunk will satisfy the law. In the case of a “hatchback,” a separate case is likely required. There are also open legal questions regarding glove compartments and pickup trucks with caps and covers.

Any rifle, shotgun, or handgun left in a motor vehicle, not under the owner’s direct control must be stored in a securely locked container to satisfy the safe storage requirements of G.L. c. 140 § 131L.

 

Obtaining a License to Carry Firearms (LTC)

A person over the age of 21 may apply for a license to possess, carry, transport firearms, ammunition and feeding devices under Massachusetts laws regarding the License to Carry. When you are trying to obtain a license to carry a firearm in Massachusetts, you should be aware that there are two different classes: Class A and B licenses.

A Class A LTC allows the license holder to purchase, rent, lease, borrow, possess and carry: 1) Firearms, including large capacity firearms(semi-automatic handgun or rifle capable of firing more than ten rounds, or a shotgun capable of accepting more than five shotgun shells), ammunition and feeding devices for the ammunition, for any lawful purpose and 2) Rifles and shotguns—including large capacity weapons, ammunition and feed devices for the ammunition. Both forms of firearms can be subject to restrictions relative to the possession, use or carrying of firearms as the licensing authority deems proper. If someone violates one of the imposed restrictions, they can be fined between $1,000-$10,000. Class A licenses are also issued to individuals that own and operate a shooting range or gallery where large capacity weapons will be used.

A Class B license allows the person to purchase, rent, lease, borrow, possess and carry non-large capacity firearms and feeding devices for ammunition for the firearm. Class B licenses do not allow a person to carry a large capacity firearm (unless they are in a location that holds a valid Class A license) or carry any loaded firearm in a concealed manner in public. A violation of any Class B restrictions will also result in a fine between $1,000-$10,000.

Both Class A and B licenses allow a person to own, possess, purchase or transfer any non-large capacity rifles and shotguns, and also to purchase or possess chemical mace, pepper spray or any other propelled liquid, gas or powder which is designed to temporarily incapacitate.

In order to obtain a Class A or B license, an applicant must reside or have a place of business within the jurisdiction of the licensing authority and submit the application to the licensing authority or to the colonel of the state police. The license will be granted if the applicant is a suitable person and the person has either a good reason to fear injury to his person or property or for any other reason, including the carrying of firearms for use in sport or target practice only. An applicant must complete a Firearms Safety Course or a Basic Hunter Education course in order to fulfill the training requirement for Massachusetts. The license is valid for 6 years and costs $100.00.

A person’s application will be denied if he or she is an alien, under 21 years of age, or the LTC applicant has any statutory disqualifiers such active warrants, a criminal record containing disqualifying offenses, a record showing confinement or treatment for mental illness drug addiction, or drunkenness.

Seven days after receiving the LTC application, the Chief of Police or his designee is required to conduct a fingerprint check with the Mass. State Police. Within 30 days thereafter, the MSP is required to advice the local police of anything on the applicant’s criminal record which would disqualify the applicant or give the licensing officer a reason to believe that the LTC application should be denied.

The law states that the Chief of Police or licensing official authority is supposed to render a decision on a firearms license application within 40 days from the filing date. If a license is denied, the licensing authority is supposed to provide a written denial notice.

Expired Massachusetts Firearms Licenses (FID & LTC)

In Massachusetts, Licenses to Carry Firearms (LTCs) and Firearms Identification Cards (FIDs) are valid for no more than 6 years from the date of issue. They generally expire on the anniversary of the applicant’s date of birth. Many years ago, FID cards were issued with no expiration dates and the renewal date was listed as “indefinite.” However, those FID cards expired by operation of law when Chapter 180 of the Acts of 1988 was enacted.

There is a ninety (90) day grace period for Licenses to Carry Firearms (LTCs) and FID cards. This means that a LTC or FID is valid for a period of 90 days after the stated expiration date. For members returning from active military duty, FID cards are valid for 90 days after the military member’s release from active duty.

It is not a crime to carry a rifle, shotgun, or firearm on an expired license, even if the license is expired beyond the 90 day grace period, so long as the holder is not disqualified from renewal of the license. It is a civil infraction and not a violation of G.L. c. 269 § 10. Thus, there is no right of arrest. It is only a violation of G.L. c. 269 § 10 and, therefore, “arrestable” only if:

the license was revoked or suspended, or a revocation or suspension is pending, due to something other than a failure to notify of a change of address;

the renewal of the firearms license (LTC or FID) has been denied;

In all cases of a suspended, revoked, or expired firearms license (LTC or FID), police are required to confiscate the weapons and the firearms license, which must be promptly forwarded to the licensing authority which issued the license. Confiscated firearms, rifles and shotguns must returned to their owner upon license renewal.

Carrying on an expired LTC or FID is a civil infraction punished by a civil fine of $500 – $5000. G.L. c. 269 § 10 is not violated unless the license was suspended, revoked, or denied for something other than failure to report a change of address. Thus, there is usually no right of arrest in these situations.

Restraining Orders & Firearms Licensing in Massachusetts

If a G.L. c. 209A abuse prevention order has been issued against you, or your are the subject of a similar order issued by another jurisdiction, you are statutorily disqualified from holding or being issued a Firearms Identification Card (FID) or License to Carry Firearms (LTC) in Massachusetts.

If you have a Firearms Identification Card, once the G.L. c. 209A restraining order is lifted, you are entitled to have your FID card reinstated and your rifles and shotguns returned to you. This is because a Licensing Authority cannot deny you a FID card based on “suitability.”

A restraining order issued by the Probate & Family Court pursuant to G.L. c. 208 will not result in the suspension of your FID and such an order will not prevent you from being issued one. However, when it comes to a License to Carry Firearms (LTC), a Licensing Authority could deny your application or revoke your LTC based on suitability, because you were issued a G.L. c. 208 order.

Once you surrender your firearms, rifles, and shotguns to the police pursuant to an abuse prevention order, they can only released to a firearms licensed dealer, (FFL holder)  and directly to another private  individual who has a Firearms Identification Card (FID) or License to Carry Firearms (LTC).  G.L. c. 209A Section 3B requires that firearms be transferred from the police to either a FFL holder or a bonded warehouse. Private transfers are prohibited.

When an abuse prevention order is vacated or expires, your FID card must be reinstated and your LTC can be reinstated, depending what the Chief of Police or licensing authority decides. If facts and circumstances set forth in the affidavit relied upon to get the abuse prevention order raise suitability concerns, the police may refuse to reinstate your License to Carry Firearms due to an alleged lack of suitability. If this happens, you can file a Petition for Judicial Review in the District Court.

Of course, independent of any restraining order, a domestic abuse conviction will result in the suspension of your LTC on statutory grounds.

Firearms, rifles, and shotguns must be surrendered to police and the license or FID suspended whether the restraining order is temporary, permanent, or an emergency restraining order. These orders are issued when the applicant can demonstrate to a judge’s satisfaction that there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse.

Not every firearm in the home must be surrendered when the police serve a restraining order. Only those weapons over which the defendant has possession or control must be surrendered. If there are multiple licensed individuals residing in the home, other gun owners not named as defendants in the restraining order can be allowed to retain their weapons, so long as the defendant does not have access to them.

In addition to the Massachusetts laws which prevent those with restraining orders from possessing firearms, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 further prevents the possession of firearms by those with restraining or abuse prevention orders.

Firearms Identification Cards in Massachusetts

Unlike licenses to Carry Firearms, the issuance of which is discretionary, Firearms Identification Cards shall be issued to those applicants who are not statutorily disqualified. This means that a Massachusetts licensing office cannot refuse to grant you a Firearms Identification (FID) Card based on an alleged lack of suitability. The issuance of Firearms Identification Cards in Massachusetts is governed by G.L. c. 140 Sec. 129B.

Persons confined to any hospital or institution because of mental illness are permanently disqualified from being issued FID cards, unless the person presents a sworn statement from a physician who is familiar with the person’s mental health history and who certifies that the person is safe to possess firearms.

Likewise, those who are or have been under treatment for or confinement for drug addiction or habitual drunkenness are prohibited from holding Firearms Identification Cards unless such a person presents an affidavit from a physician who certifies that the applicant is cured of the disqualifying condition. In such cases, there is a 5 year waiting period.

Applicants who are not of sufficient age or who have current arrest warrants or active G.L. c. 209A restraining orders issued against them cannot be issued FID cards.
Those who have been adjudicated youthful offenders for designated offenses or convicted of felonies, violent crimes, misdemeanors punishable by imprisonment for more than two years, weapons violations, or drug offenses are statutorily disqualified from being issued either a License to Carry Firearms or a Firearms Identification Card under Massachusetts law. However, except for drug trafficking and violent crimes, 5 years after conviction or release from confinement or supervision, a person’s ability to possess a non-large capacity rifle or shotgun will be restored and such a person can legally apply for and be issued an FID card.

There are No Other Conditions Allowed by law when it comes to Firearms Identification Cards in Massachusetts. Unlike licenses to carry, these FID cards allow the holder to lawfully possess non-high capacity rifles and shotguns. They do not allow holders to carry handguns, which require licenses to carry.

Restricted Firearms Identification Cards are also available they allow the holder to carry mace, OC spray, and/or pepper spray which are technically classified as ammunition under Massachusetts Law.

FID cards used to be valid for life. However, they now are valid for a maximum of 6 years. However, anyone over 70 years of age is exempt from paying the renewal fee.

Firearms Possession by Minors & Unlicensed Persons

Some places, such as New York City, have extremely strict laws that have been interpreted to mean that unlicensed individuals and minors are prohibited from even touching certain firearms. Fortunately Massachusetts is not (yet) at this stage, yet there are still strict guidelines and laws that gun owners should be aware of whenever an unlicensed individual or minor has access to ones firearms or ammunition.

 Foreward

A few things for the reader to remember:

There are few sections in the M.G.L.’s that specifically address unlicensed individuals. Rather, it must often be inferred what is required of gun owners when dealing with unlicensed individuals and minors. This is done by careful study and analysis of applicable M.G.L.’s (such as when they state that only licensed individuals are permitted to do something), study of case law and interpretation of laws by established authorities. When my personal opinion is offered on a matter where hard facts and statutes are absent, I will duly note so.

Also, in terms of Massachusetts firearms law unlicensed individuals and minors are often simply distinctions without a difference. This is again largely because in the M.G.L.’s neither is often specifically referred to. However there are parts of the M.G.L.’s that specifically refer to minors, thus creating special circumstances for them, which I will mention where it is appropriate to do so. Minor should also not necessarily be interpreted to mean those under the age of 18, because in many respects a minor is someone under 21 (especially in terms of handguns). I will highlight this distinction where appropriate. One should remember that the two are not mutually exclusive, i.e. there are minors who are licensed and adults who are unlicensed. Lastly, one should assume that all references are made to residents of Massachusetts unless otherwise noted. Often gun owners mistakenly confuse exceptions carved out specifically for non-residents; this section will aim to rectify those inaccurate interpretations.

Lastly, because this section covers a somewhat wide area of Massachusetts firearms law it will be organized according to unlicensed individual vs. minors, and split by activity.

Unlicensed Individuals

Target Shooting and the Range

 M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 129C (m) states the following:

 “The temporary holding, handling or firing of a firearm for examination, trial or instruction in the presence of a holder of a license to carry firearms, or the temporary holding, handling or firing of a rifle or shotgun for examination, trial or instruction in the presence of a holder of a firearm identification card, or where such holding, handling or firing is for a lawful purpose”

Clause (m) allows for unlicensed individuals to shoot handguns (firearm means handgun in this section), rifles and shotguns in the presence of a licensed individual. Take special note that “presence” is used here instead of the more common “direct control”. Presence may be a less strict standard in terms of the amount of observation a licensed individual must exert over an unlicensed individual. For example, if an unlicensed individual was shooting on one end of an outdoor range, and the licensed individual walked to the other end of the range, it could still be said that the unlicensed individual was in the presence of the licensed individual, albeit probably not under their direct control.

 Why the distinction then? Because although the law does not require the higher level of observation from the licensed individual, it would still be prudent for the licensed individual to go above what the law requires and always be under the direct control of the firearm(s). Not only is this wise from a safety standard (especially when dealing with a new shooter), but because of the fact that many law enforcement officers and even perhaps range officials would be unaware of the degree of observation required.

 Note: no mention of machine guns is made. Ron Glidden in the 18th edition of “Law Enforcement Guide to Firearms Law” theorizes that this prohibits possession by anyone unlicensed, meaning those who lack a green card (machine gun license). Any NFA owner should first consult with a firearms attorney before allowing anyone unlicensed to handle their machine gun(s).

Also note that clause (m) makes no mention of age restrictions (more on this later).

Non-Residents

There are several exemptions for non-residents that wish to engage in target shooting in Massachusetts:

M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 129C (g) –“Possession of rifles and shotguns and ammunition therefor by nonresidents while on a firing or shooting range”*

M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 131G – “Any person who is not a resident of the commonwealth may carry a pistol or revolver in or through the commonwealth for the purpose of taking part in a pistol or revolver competition or attending any meeting or exhibition of any organized group of firearm collectors or for the purpose of hunting; provided, that such person is a resident of the United States and has a permit or license to carry firearms issued under the laws of any state”**

* One should note that this exemption only covers possession of non-large capacity rifles and shotguns. Possession high-capacity rifles and shotguns, as well as handguns would require either a non-resident Class A or B LTC.

** This exemption requires that an official event be taking place. A casual afternoon outing at the range would not suffice, but a recognized .22 pin shoot may be covered. If one wishes to utilize this exemptions where appropriate they should probably take care to print out a copy of this law as well as a copy of the event announcement.

Hunting

Taking Massachusetts residents hunting, whom are unlicensed and over the age of 15 hunting and also lack a hunting license is a grey area within the law. No specific exemption is made for them, even if accompanied by and in the presence of licensed individuals. Various interpretations have been taken by gun owners: for instance “As long as one person is licensed and only one long arm is shared it is legal” or “as long as only one bag limit is shared it is legal”. None of these interpretations are supported by law and thus should not be followed. They likely stem from inaccurate understanding of what is covered by the non-resident exemptions (discussed later).

If they lack both a hunting license and firearms license they can only follow along while you hunt. They can not touch your firearm or partake in hunting in any way. They should be especially mindful to be respectful of the environment; should a wildlife official approach you (plural) it could be possible for them to interpret the presence of the unlicensed individual as harassing the wildlife due to lack of official documentation permitting for their presence at the hunting location.

If they lack only a firearms license but hold a hunting license, this area gets even “greyer”. Clearly they hold a license that states they may hunt, however there is no exemption that states unlicensed (meaning firearms license) individuals may hunt regardless of being in the presence of someone holding a firearms license. It also seems to be de facto policy to require a firearms license before issuance of a hunting license, although such policy is not required by law. The MassWildlife website states the following, under the “Hunting License Purchase Requirements” section where they discuss exemptions for minors:

“In order to hunt with most types of guns, Massachusetts residents need to contact their local police station and apply for either a Firearms Identification Card (FID) or a License to Carry Firearms (LTC). Contact your local police department for information about your status regarding Massachusetts gun licensing requirements.”

This seems to require that anyone wishing to hunt that is not covered under the minor and non-resident exemptions must hold a firearms license. Even if one is to postulate that such interpretation is not grounded in the law, it still confirms that MassWildlife and their enforcement officers will likely take that approach and cite “violators” according to this reasoning. The key here is to not confuse hunting regulations with firearms law; to do such often leads to flawed interpretations of what it legal and illegal. Anyone wishing to allow an unlicensed individual, whether it be a minor or non-resident, to hunt with them should consult with a firearms attorney experienced in this specific area of the law.

Non-Resident Hunters whom are Unlicensed

M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 129C (f) specifically exempts non-resident hunters from firearms licensing requirements:

“Possession of rifles and shotguns and ammunition therefor by nonresident hunters with valid nonresident hunting licenses during hunting season”

One should note that a hunting license is still required to hunt in Massachusetts regardless of residency, and said license requires completion of a hunters safety course (refer to hunting section for more info).

Storage

 M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 131L states the requirements for firearms storage in Massachusetts:

“It shall be unlawful to store or keep any firearm, rifle or shotgun including, but not limited to, large capacity weapons, or machine gun in any place unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user. For purposes of this section, such weapon shall not be deemed stored or kept if carried by or under the control of the owner or other lawfully authorized user.”

Pay careful attention to this line, “properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user.” This means that all firearms stored must be inoperable by unauthorized users; including unlicensed individuals. To clarify, this does not mean that the firearm must be inaccessible, but rather inoperable. It could thus be argued that a licensed individual who allowed an unlicensed individual to take their cable-locked firearm into another room of the house for cleaning purposes was in full compliance with the law, assuming that the cable lock was applied in such a manner as to render the firearm inoperable (i.e. through the action).

We can infer from §§ 131L that unlicensed individuals residing in the home must not have the information necessary to unlock said firearms. For instance, if a husband had firearms secured in a safe but otherwise left unlocked then the unlicensed wife should not know the combination to the safe; otherwise the firearms would not be “properly engaged”. The same could be said for knowing the location to keys that unlock cable-locks or trigger guards secured to firearms.

An FID Card in regards to handguns would also, for the purposes of this issue, render an individual unlicensed because an FID Card does not allow for possession of a handgun in the home unless said handgun was procured via a permit to purchase.

Minors

Target Shooting and the Range

For those under the age of 21 this area of firearms law becomes very grey. This is because of seemingly contradictory laws that leave open to question what is legal and illegal for minors to shoot.

M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 129C (m):

“The temporary holding, handling or firing of a firearm for examination, trial or instruction in the presence of a holder of a license to carry firearms, or the temporary holding, handling or firing of a rifle or shotgun for examination, trial or instruction in the presence of a holder of a firearm identification card, or where such holding, handling or firing is for a lawful purpose”

M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 129C (k):

“Any person under the age of fifteen with respect to the use of a rifle or shotgun by such person in hunting or target shooting, provided that such use is otherwise permitted by law and is under the immediate supervision of a person holding a firearm identification card or a license to carry firearms”

M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 130:

“Whoever sells or furnishes… any person under eighteen years of age a rifle, shotgun, machine gun or ammunition, or whoever sells or furnishes to any person under 21 years of age a firearm or large capacity rifle or shotgun or ammunition therefor shall have his license to sell firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns and or ammunition revoked and shall not be entitled to apply for such license for ten years from the date of such revocation and shall be punished by a fine of not less than $1,000 nor more than $10,000, or by imprisonment in a state prison for not more than ten years or by imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than two and one-half years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

and;

“Nothing in this section or section one hundred and thirty-one E shall be construed to prohibit a parent or guardian from allowing his child or ward, who has not attained age fifteen, the supervised use of a rifle or shotgun or ammunition therefore.

If we were to only consider clause (m) it would seem to allow for minors of any age to shoot any firearm so long as under the direct supervision of a firearms license holder appropriately licensed for said firearm (firearm means handgun in this section). Yet clause (k) only means rifles and shotguns and makes no mention of firearms (i.e. handguns) or high-capacity rifles and shotguns. It would therefore seem, taking these two clauses into account, that those under 15 are allowed only to shoot low-capacity rifles and shotguns, and those above 15 years of age are unrestricted as to what they may shoot.

Unfortunately this situation gets even murkier with the addition of M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 130, because depending on how one interprets the section it can further restrict what those under 21 may shoot. “Furnish” is of the utmost importance here; as it is up to the gun owner to determine whether allowing a minor between the ages of 15-20 to shoot a handgun or high-capacity rifle/shotgun under their direct supervision constitutes “furnishing”. One may assume that furnish is meant to indicate illicit sales, yet nowhere in the law is this stated and a gun owner should not necessarily assume such.

Furthermore, had §§ 130 included a line exempting such use for those between the ages of 15-20 while under the direct supervision of a licensed individual this dilemma would not exist, or at least it would be less grey. However the line that does exempt such use only addresses those under 15 years of age, again reiterating what §§ 129C (k) has already established in that such minors may only shoot low-capacity rifle and shotguns.

Anyone wishing to allow a minor under the age of 21 to shoot their handgun or high-capacity rifle or shotgun should first consult with an experienced firearms attorney.

Hunting

Under 12 years of age

Not permitted to hunt in Massachusetts

12-14 years of age

Minors between these ages are permitted to hunt in Massachusetts. However they are not eligible to receive a hunter education certificate as well as to hold a hunting license. Thus, several restrictions apply:

  • Must be accompanied by a licensed adult
  • The bag limit established by law for one person is not exceeded
  • Only one firearm is used and shared
  • No more than one minor per each adult

15-17 years of age

Minors between these ages must have a hunting license if they wish to hunt. As previously discussed, it is a grey area to take an unlicensed individual hunting. Refer to that section for further info.

18-20 years of age

In terms of hunting regulations those between these ages are treated no differently than those 21 years old and above. However, there could be issues for said minor wishing to hunt with a handgun. At the very least they would need to be accompanied by someone duly licensed to possess a handgun, and even then it is not clear if it is ever legal for such minors to shoot a handgun. Furthermore, there are contradictory laws regarding handgun possession while hunting (please refer to the hunting section for more info).

Storage

Storage requirements are no different when a minor is involved, meaning nothing different must be done by a gun owner beyond what is already required by the law simply because a minor is living at the home.

However, the penalties that a gun owner faces for failing to properly store a firearm when a minor may have accessed it are enhanced, often quite drastically, according to M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 131L:

 Non-large capacity

  • No minor may have accessed a non-large capacity rifle or shotgun – $500-5,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to 1 year.
  • Unlicensed minor may have accessed a non-large capacity rifle or shotgun – $1,000-10,000 fine and/or imprisonment for between 1-10 years.

Large capacity firearms

  • No minor may have accessed a large capacity firearm or machine gun – $1,000-10,000 fine and/or imprisonment for between 1-10 years.
  • Unlicensed minor may have accessed a large capacity firearm or machine gun – $5,000-10,000 fine and/or imprisonment for between 2.5-10 years.

In addition to these enhanced penalties, one must also consider how they would interpret M.G.L. c. 140, §§ 130. It may seem that “furnish” is meant as an intentional act whereby a gun owner would deliberately provide a restricted firearm to a minor. This however may or may not be the case, as a prosecutor could argue that failing to secure a firearm that a minor accessed should also carry the penalties provided in §§ 130 for furnishing a firearm to a minor: $1,000-10,000 fine and/or confinement in a prison for up to 10 years, or a jail for no more than 2.5 years.

This article was written by Marcus Dilloff.

Medical Marijuana & Firearms Licensing in Massachusetts

Notwithstanding the legalization of so-called “medical marijuana” in Massachusetts, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. Sec. 812(b)(1). Schedule I substances such as marijuana, heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy cannot be sold, dispensed, prescribed or possessed under federal law and such actions are federal offenses.  Further, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S., and lacks an accepted level of safety for use under medical supervision.

On Sept. 21, 2011 the U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), made it clear that medical marijuana users, including those doing so in compliance with state law, should not be allowed to purchase, possess or use firearms or ammunition.  ATF takes the position that selling firearms and/or ammunition to medical marijuana users violates federal firearms law.

Under 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(g)(3), the ATF reminds firearms dealers, it is unlawful for any person who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” (as defined by the Controlled Substances Act) to ship, transport, receive or possess firearms or ammunition.

Federal law further makes it a crime to sell or otherwise dispose of a firearm or ammunition to anyone knowing “or having reasonable cause to believe” that the person unlawfully uses a controlled substance, such as marijuana. 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(d)(3). A federal regulation, 27 C.F.R. Sec. 478.11, allows an inference of current illegal use of a controlled substance to be drawn from “evidence of a recent use or possession of a controlled substance or a pattern of use or possession that reasonably covers the present time.”

According to the ATF, a person who uses medical marijuana, even in compliance with state law, should answer “yes” to question 11.e. (“Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?”) on ATF Form 4473, Firearms Transaction Record. And licensed firearms dealers may not transfer firearms or ammunition to them. Even if the person answers “no” to this question concerning the use of controlled substances, the ATF takes the position that it is a violation of federal law to transfer a weapon or ammunition to them if a person has “reasonable cause to believe” that they use medical marijuana, such as if they have a card authorizing them to possess medical marijuana under state law.

Based on the aforementioned principles of federal law, it is likely that licensing authorities in Massachusetts will use medical marijuana use to deny License to Carry Applications.

The Transfer of Firearms and FA-10s

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.