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Know the Laws: Massachusetts

UPDATED November 28, 2016

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WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a domestic violence advocate in your community for more information on gun laws in your area.  To find an advocate or ogranization in your area please visit the MA State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab on the top of this page.

More Information and Where to Get Help

back to topIf the abuser's gun(s) is taken away, what will happen to it?

If the abuser is ordered to give up his/her gun as part of an abuse prevention order, s/he must give it to a law enforcement official. The law enforcement official will store the gun, or, upon request of the abuser, give the gun to a licensed firearms dealer to be sold or stored. If the abuser asks for the gun to be sold, s/he must request the sale within one year of when you get your abuse prevention order.*

If the abuser wants the gun(s) stored, it will be kept at the police department until the order expires.

* Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 129D

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back to topWho do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the State Police.  If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). 

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our MA Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Massachusetts on the ATF website.  For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).  Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer. 

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our MA State and Local Programs page. 

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law.  If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.* 

United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

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back to topWhat is the penalty for violating the federal firearm law?

Anyone who owns, has or buys a gun in violation of the federal firearm law can be punished by a fine, jail time for up to 10 years, or both.*

Under MA state law, anyone who violates the firearm provision of an abuse prevention order can be punished by a fine of up to $5,000, jail time for up to 2 ½ years, or both.** 

* 18 USC § 924(a)(2)
** Mass. Gen. Laws 209A § 3B

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back to topI do not have an abuse prevention order and the abuser has not been convicted of any crimes. Can s/he have a gun?

According to Massachusetts state law, even if a person was not convicted of a crime and there is no abuse prevention order issued against him/her, the following people cannot possess a gun:

  • has been committed to a hospital/institution for mental illness, alcohol or substance abuse (unless after 5 years from the date of the confinement, the applicant submits an affidavit of a licensed physician or clinical psychologist to say the person's condition is not one that should prevent firearm possession);
  • is subject to an order from the probate court appointing a guardian/conservator on his/her behalf due to lacking mental capacity;
  • was committed to treatment by a court due to being a drug addict or alcoholic;
  • is under age 21;
  • is an undocumented immigrant, an "alien who does not maintain lawful permanent residency," or was a citizen of the United States but has renounced that citizenship;
  • has been discharged from the armed forces of the United States under dishonorable conditions;
  • is a fugitive from justice; or
  • is subject to an outstanding arrest warrant.*

If any of the above apply to your situation, please talk to someone in your area about how this law is being enforced.

If none of these situations apply, you can still make a plan for your safety. See our Staying Safe page for more information.  You can also contact your local domestic violence organization for additional help.  You may want to talk to them about whether leaving the area - either long term or for a little while - might help improve your safety.  To find a shelter or organization near you please visit our MA State and Local Programs page.

For additional information on gun laws in Massachusetts, you can go to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website.

* Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(d)

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back to topWhat will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from buying a gun.  Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system.  Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales.  

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate.  Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

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back to topThe abuser uses a gun for his/her job. Does the law still apply?

If the abuser has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, then under federal law, the abuser can NEVER buy or have a gun, even if s/he is a police officer or a military employee.

However, if the abuser was not convicted of one of the above-mentioned crimes, an abuser who is a law enforcement officer, military employee or government employee may still be able to continue to use a gun for work purposes (but not for personal use) even if you have an abuse prevention order.*

Note: Under Massachusetts law, anyone can ask the judge in an abuse prevention order case to reconsider the removal of firearms provision in a temporary or emergency order.  If the person uses a gun for his/her job, the judge is supposed to set a hearing date within two days to review this request.**

If you are confused or not sure whether the abuser can still use his/her gun for work purposes, you can talk to a domestic violence advocate in your area or call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to find out more information: 1-800-903-0111 x 2.

To find a domestic violence advocate in your area, please go to our MA State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab on the top of this page.

* 18 USC § 925(a)(1)
** Mass. Gen. Laws 209A § 3B

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back to topI've read through all of this information, and I am still confused. What can I do?

Trying to understand both federal and state law can be confusing, but there are people out there who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law.

  • You can also contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you: 1-800-903-0111 x 2
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area - see MA Where to Find Help page.
  • You can write to our Email Hotline.

 

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