En Español
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

Know the Laws: Massachusetts

UPDATED November 28, 2016

View by Section

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.

Basic Info and Definitions

back to topI am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?

It depends.  In order to apply for a license to possess or carry firearms in Massacusetts, the applicant must live or work in Massachusetts.  Also, Massachusetts state law says that cannot have or buy a gun if s/he has been:

  • convicted (or adjudicated a "youthful offender" or "delinquent child") of any of the following either in Massachusetts or in another state:
    • a felony;
    • a misdemeanor punishable by jail time of more than 2 years;
    • a "violent crime" (defined here);
    • a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (defined here); or
    • any weapons offense or drug-related offense;
  • 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;
  • is currently subject to an order for suspension and surrender of firearms license as part of a temporary or ex parte abuse prevention order or is subject to a final abuse prevention order issued in Massachusetts or another state; or
  • 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.*

In addition, if you have an abuse prevention order against the abuser, or if the abuser has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor, then federal law states that it is illegal for the abuser to buy, own or have a gun in his/her possession.**  There are certain requirements that your abuse prevention order (209A Order) must meet for it to qualify under federal law - see here for more information.  Also, if you are not sure if the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, see What crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?  To read the definition of a felony, see What is the definition of a felony?

* Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(d)
** 18 USC § 922(g)(8),(9)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat is the difference between federal and state gun laws?

In these gun laws pages, we refer to both "federal gun laws" and "state gun laws."  The major difference between the two has to do with who makes the law, who prosecutes someone who violates the law, and what the penalty is for breaking the law.

One reason why it is important for you to know that there are these two sets of gun laws is so that you can understand all of the possible ways that the abuser might be breaking the law, and you can better protect yourself.  Throughout this section, we will be referring mostly to state laws.  Be sure to also read our Federal Gun Laws pages to see if any federal laws apply to your situation as well.  You will need to read both state and federal laws to see which ones, if any, the abuser might be violating.

If you are calling the police because you believe the abuser has violated a gun law, you do not necessarily need to be able to tell the police which law was violated (state versus federal) but local police cannot arrest someone for violating federal law, only for violating state/local laws.  Only federal law enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”), can arrest someone for violating federal laws.  If the local police believe that a state law is being violated, they could arrest the abuser and hand the case over to the state prosecutor.  If the local police believe a federal law is being violated, hopefully, the police department will notify the ATF or perhaps the U.S. Attorney’s office in your state (which is the federal prosecutor).  For information on how you can contact ATF directly to report the violation of federal gun laws, go to Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?  If the abuser is breaking both state and federal laws, s/he might be prosecuted in both state and federal court.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?

A crime is considered a domestic violence misdemeanor under federal law if it:

  • Can be defined as a misdemeanor under federal or state law; and
  • Involves physical violence or force, or includes threats made with a deadly weapon; and
  • Was committed by:
    • a current or former spouse;
    • a parent or guardian of the victim;
    • a person with whom the victim shares a child;
    • a person living with the victim as a spouse, parent or guardian; or
    • a person who has a similar relationship (listed above) with a spouse, parent or guardian of the victim.*

Note: The crime does not have to specifically mention "domestic violence" in order for it to be considered a domestic violence misdemeanor, and for the federal firearm law to apply.**  The relationship that the victim has with the offender is what determines whether or not the misdemeanor is a "domestic violence" misdemeanor.*** 

For example: If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his wife, he may no longer have or buy a gun.  If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his neighbor, he may still be able to have or buy a gun.

If you're not sure if a certain crime counts as a domestic violence misdemeanor, you can contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit at 1-800-903-0111 x 2. 

* 18 USC § 921(a)(33)(A)
** United States v. Kavoukian, 315 F. 3d 139 (2d. Cir. 2002); United States v. Meade, 175 F.3d 215 (1st Cir. 1999)
*** United States v. Denis, 297 F.3d.25(1st Cir. 2002); United States v. Costigan, No. 009-B0H, 2000 U.S. Dist. (D. Me. June 16, 2000)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat is the definition of a felony?

A felony under federal law is a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.*  MA state law defines a felony as a crime that is punishable by death or imprisonment in a state prison.** 
 
* 18 USC § 3559
** Mass. Gen. Laws 274 §1

Did you find this information helpful?

Guns and Abuse Prevention Orders (209A Orders)

back to topI have an abuse prevention order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?

Under Massachusetts state law, a person cannot get a license to carry or possess a firearm if s/he is subject to an "order for suspension and surrender of firearms license" as part of a temporary or ex parte abuse prevention order or is subject to a final abuse prevention order issued in Massachusetts or another state.*  An "order for suspension and surrender of firearms license" is supposed to be issued as part of a temporary abuse prevention order if if the judge thinks there is a substantial likelihood that you are in immediate danger of abuse.**

Also, according to federal law, if you have an abuse prevention order that was issued by a state civil court against the abuser and meets federal law requirements, the abuser cannot have a gun in his/her possession or buy a new gun.***  Note: This law may not apply to law enforcement officials, military personnel, and other government employees who use guns while performing official duties.****  If the abuser is a police officer, member of the military, or someone else who uses a gun for his/her job, talk to your local domestic violence program about your options.  To find a shelter or an advocate at a local program, please visit the MA State and Local Programs page.

* Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(d)(vi)
** Mass. Gen. Laws 209A § 3B
*** 18 USC § 922(g)(8)
**** 18 USC § 925(a)(1)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topIs there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get an abuse prevention order?

While it does not need to be written on your order that the abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun in order for the federal law to be enforced, it may make it easier if it is written.

Here are a few things that you may be able to ask for to try to make the firearm prohibition clearer:

  1. If the abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many guns s/he has, and if s/he has ever threatened you with a gun(s).
  2. Ask the judge to check the box on your abuse prevention order that says the defendant cannot own, buy or have a gun while the order is in effect.
  3. Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that the gun restriction is checked on your order.
  4. It also may be helpful if the judge explains what will happen to the abuser's guns, who will take them, and where they will be held once you leave the courthouse. If the judge agrees to add language that the abuser cannot keep his/her guns while the order is in effect, you may also want to ask that the judge:
    • Require the abuser to give his/her guns to the police, or require the police to go to the abuser's house and get them;
    • Make it clear to both you and the abuser how long the guns will be kept away from the abuser; and
    • Order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topThe abuser did not show up for the abuse prevention order (209A order) hearing. Can his/her gun still be taken away?

Maybe. The abuser does not have to come to the hearing in order for the law to apply to him/her, but s/he does have to be given notice of the hearing and an opportunity to attend.*  If no hearing is scheduled, and/or no notice is given about the abuse prevention order, then the federal firearm law might not apply to the abuser.**

* United States v. Bunnell, 106 F. Supp. 2d 60 (D. Me. 2000), aff'd 280 F. 3d 46 (1st Cir. 2002.)
** United States v. Spruill, 292 F. 3d 207 (5th Cir. 2002.)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topI have an ex parte temporary abuse prevention order (209A order) against the abuser. Do I have to wait until I receive a final order before his/her gun is taken away?

No.  Under Massachusetts law, the judge can order the immediate removal of firearms and a gun license as part of an ex parte abuse prevention order if you can show there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse.*   If a judge does not order this as part of your ex parte order, then it's possible you will have to wait until the final, long-term order.

* Mass. Gen. Laws 209A §3B

Did you find this information helpful?

Guns and Criminal Convictions

back to topIf the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

No. Under Federal law, if your abuser has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, s/he cannot have or buy a gun.*  If you're not sure if s/he has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, see What crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?

In addition, MA state law says that if you have been convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor punishable by more than 2 years of jail time, a violent crime, or any weapons or drug-related offenses, you cannot have or buy a gun.**  

* 18 USC 922 § (g)(9)
** Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topHow can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony?

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are open to the public, but they are not always easy to access.  If you know the exact courthouse where the abuser may have been convicted, you can go to the courthouse and ask the clerk of court for access to those records.

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are also kept in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). However, no one other than law enforcement officials and licensed firearm sellers are allowed to search the NICS. Your local police department may be willing to search NICS for you if you ask, but they are not required to do so.

To read more about the NICS, please see the question, What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topIf a law enforcement officer or other government employee is convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, can s/he have or buy a gun?

No.  Law enforcement officers and other government officials who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony cannot have or buy guns for any purpose, including their official duties, according to federal law.* 

* 18 USC § 925(a)(1)

Did you find this information helpful?

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

Did you find this information helpful?

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)

Did you find this information helpful?

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

Did you find this information helpful?

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)

Did you find this information helpful?

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.

Did you find this information helpful?

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

Did you find this information helpful?

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.

 

Did you find this information helpful?

back to top