Licensing policies and practices vary widely from town to town. The issuance of restricted Licenses to Carry that prevent a License to Carry from carrying a loaded concealed handgun is one of the most contentious aspects of the regulatory scheme in Massachusetts. Unlike most states, Massachusetts is unusual in that the possession of any modern firearm or ammunition requires one to have a state issued License to Carry. By contrast, the residents of almost every other state do not need a license merely to purchase or possess firearms and most states require a license only for the carrying of a concealed firearm. Although Massachusetts requires a license just to possess or purchase a firearm, that license is by default, a license to carry a concealed firearm unless the issuing authority chooses to limit the licenses in some way.
The most common firearms license in Massachusetts is the Class A License to Carry firearms. The License to Carry is issued for "all lawful purposes", but is "subject to such restrictions relative to the possession, use or carrying of firearms as the licensing authority deems proper". (MGL Chap 140 sec 131). In order to legally carry a loaded, concealed handgun on a public way, a Massachusetts resident must possess an unrestricted Class A License to Carry. The decision to impose restrictions on a License to Carry is solely at the discretion of the licensing authority.
In practice the vast majority of Massachusetts police departments rarely, if ever, issue a restricted License to Carry. State-wide only about 7.5% of the Class A Licenses to Carry issued in 2012 - 2013 were issued with any type of restriction. Those restricted Licenses to Carry are concentrated in just a few towns that continue to be outliers compared to the norm. In fact, only seven towns (Springfield, Brookline, Lowell, Watertown, Somerville, Boston & Longmeadow) have restricted more than 50% of the License to Carry issued in the last two years.
Of the seven states that impose the most onerous burdens on gun ownership, Massachusetts, as a result of universal licensing, erects this highest barrier to actually becoming a gun owner. However, because the most common firearms license is a 'License to Carry' firearms most gun owners have the ability to carry a functional firearm for personal protection should they chose to do so.
Firearms licensing data obtained by Comm2A tell us that the ability to own a firearm in Massachusetts generally equates to the ability to carry a firearm. While one might conclude that most police chiefs in Massachusetts are favorably disposed towards the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the data is limited to actual licenses that have been approved and issued. Police chiefs still retain wide latitude in licensing decisions and have nearly unfettered discretion in determining who can and cannot exercise their Second Amendment rights. Many towns that typically issue only unrestricted licenses will deny license for the most trivial reasons.
2015 Licensing Score Card
Active Firearm Licenses
As of February 2014
As of January 2015
Beginning on January 1, 2015, Chapter 284 of the Acts of 2014 will dramatically curtail the ability of police chiefs to deny someone a license to carry firearms. Police chiefs will still be required to deny a license to someone who is barred by law from obtaining a license. However, if an applicant is not barred by law a police chief must issue a license unless the chief “in a reasonable exercise of discretion” determines that the applicant is an ‘unsuitable’ person to be licensed.
Traditionally, Massachusetts police chiefs have had nearly unlimited discretion in setting their own standards for determining who is and who is not ‘suitable’. That broad discretion changes with the new law and now police chiefs will have to justify non-statutory license denials based upon a demonstrable risk to public safety. The new law requires that:
A determination of unsuitability shall be based on:
- reliable and credible information that the applicant or licensee has exhibited or engaged in behavior that suggests that, if issued a license, the applicant or licensee may create a risk to public safety; or
- existing factors that suggest that, if issued a license, the applicant or licensee may create a risk to public safety.
The new limits on a police chief’s discretion present a good opportunity for people who may have had ‘suitability’ issues in the past to finally obtain a license to carry. This article is intended to assist individuals who have been denied a license in the past because of ‘suitability’ issues or who have been hesitant to apply for fear of being denied.
The very first step is to check your town’s application requirements and procedure for submitting and accepting license applications. In most cases all of this information will be available on the police department’s website. In some instances a trip to the police station will be in order. Pay particular note to:
You will want to satisfy all of your department’s non-statutory requirements. While these requirements may no longer be justifiable, this is NOT the battle we want to fight here with your application. Resisting these requirements will only make any potential suitability issues more difficult.
If you’ve had past concerns about ‘suitability’, be prepared to address them directly. Do not attempt to minimize, misrepresent or otherwise hide this information on the application. Your record is what it is and you need to be prepared to speak to it directly.
Make sure that you’ve taken a state-approved basic firearm safety course and that you have the required certificate.
If you’re required to submit letters of reference pay particular attention to the requirements for those letters. Most departments only accepted original, typewritten and signed letters from non-family members. In some cases the writer is asked to directly comment on your suitability to possess firearms. Some departments require letters to be notarized. Letters should be short and to the point. The writer should state how long they’ve known you and in what capacity, that they’ve always known you to be a responsible person and that they’re not aware of any reason why you wouldn’t be a safe and responsible gun owner.
The same general rule applies if you’re required to submit a letter to your chief outlining your reasons for wanting to own a firearm. Do NOT make any reference to a need or desire to carry a firearm in public, outside your home or business. Do NOT make any reference to exercising your Second Amendment rights. Doing so will only complicate a possible appeal by making it a ‘carry’ case. As of this time, the only constitutional protection that can be claimed in the courts is the right to keep a gun in your home.
Download and complete the application. If your police department does not provide their own copy download it from the state’s website. You will want to do this even if your police departments wants you to fill out an application on-site or takes your application ‘verbally’ by asking you the questions and entering your responses into the computer. If this is the practice at your department, simply read the answers as you’ve prepared them from your application. Make sure you keep a copy of the application as YOU completed it.
Questions 4-14 are yes/no questions where a ‘yes’ answer requires further explanation on the next page. Pay particularly close attention to Question 10. You must answer ‘yes’ to this question if you have ever been arrested or summonsed to court on a criminal complaint. This includes juvenile appearances or appearances where the court records may have been sealed. Be prepared to provide a copy of any relevant court documents. Court documents are preferred over a CORI report or other probation documents. Probation records are frequently mis-coded and incorrect.
Provide the names and address of two references. These can usually be the same as in any required letters. If is almost unheard of for a police department to contact these references, but it could happen.
If you have specific reasons for wanting a license, they should be listed here. The preferred answer is “home protection and target practice”. Do NOT request a license for all lawful purposes or request that the license be issued “Restrictions: None”.
If you’ve not already done so, contact your police department to set up an appointment to submit your application. If your department doesn’t require an appointment in advance, go ahead and bring your application packet to the police station. Make sure that you’ve made a copy of your entire application packet, as you completed it, prior to submitting your application.
If the police department declines to accept your application or if they are unable to provide you with an appointment in a timely manner, contact Comm2A through this link and provide as much information as possible.
Comm2A works with a talented group of attorneys who all share a passion for civil rights and have extensive firearms related practices. We work closely with these attorneys to formulate winning legal strategies and advance Second Amendment rights. Comm2A provides this list as a public service.