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Legal Information: Massachusetts

Massachusetts State Gun Laws

State Gun Laws

This section contains information about who is prohibited from having a gun under Massachusetts state gun laws. However, in addition to these state-specific laws, there are also federal gun laws that could apply. To fully understand all of the legal protections available, it is important that you also read the Federal Gun Laws pages.

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. Go to the MA Places that Help page to find domestic violence organizations and legal help in your area.

Basic Info and Definitions

What 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.

What is the definition of a felony?

Massachusetts state law defines a felony as a crime that is punishable by death or imprisonment in a state prison.1 Usually a prison sentence is for one year or more while a jail sentence is for less than one year. However, you cannot always tell if someone was convicted of a felony only by looking at the amount of time s/he actually served since sentences are often reduced or pled down. If you are unsure if the abuser was convicted of a felony, you might want to talk to the prosecutor who handled the criminal case against the abuser to find out or go to the courthouse and search the conviction records.

1 Mass. Gen. Laws 274 § 1

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

In Massachusetts, anyone who wants to buy or have a gun must get a firearm license first, before s/he can possess any firearm. Massachusetts state law says that a person is only eligible for a license to have or buy a gun if s/he:

  • has not 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 imprisonment in a jail or prison for more than two years;
    • a “violent crime” (defined here);
    • a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence (defined here); or
    • any weapons offense or drug-related offense;
  • has not been committed to a hospital/institution for mental illness, alcohol, or substance abuse (unless after five years from the date of the confinement, the applicant submits an affidavit of a licensed physician or clinical psychologist to say that the person’s condition is not one that should prevent firearm possession);
  • is not subject to an order from the probate court appointing a guardian/conservator on his/her behalf due to lacking mental capacity;
  • has not been committed to treatment by a court due to being a drug addict or alcoholic;
  • is age 21 or older;
  • is not 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 not 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 not subject to a final abuse prevention order issued in Massachusetts or another state;
  • is not currently subject to an extreme risk protection order issued by Massachusetts or another state;
  • has not been discharged from the armed forces of the United States under dishonorable conditions;
  • is not a fugitive from justice; and
  • is not subject to an outstanding arrest warrant.1

1 Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(d)

Guns and Abuse Prevention Orders (209A Orders)

I have a temporary abuse prevention order against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away?

Under Massachusetts state law, the judge can order the immediate suspension of the abuser’s license to carry firearms and firearm identification card as part of an ex parte or emergency abuse prevention order if the person requesting the order shows that there is a “substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse.” In addition, unlike in other states, Massachusetts law clearly states that when law enforcement serves the abuse prevention order, summons, and complaint upon the defendant, the defendant must immediately hand over (surrender) all of the following to law enforcement:

  • his/her license to carry firearms;
  • his/her firearms identification card; and
  • all firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and ammunition that s/he controls, owns, or possesses.1

      The defendant does have the right to petition the court to ask the judge to reconsider the order for suspension and surrender. The issue would then be set down for a hearing within ten business days after the abuser files the petition. However, if the defendant files an affidavit with the petition in which s/he explains that a firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, or ammunition is required for his/her job, s/he can request that the hearing be held within two business days.2 You will be notified of the hearing and have an opportunity to be present.

      1 Mass. Gen. Laws 209A §§ 3B; 7
      2 Mass. Gen. Laws 209A § 3B

      I 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 or have a license to carry or possess any firearm if s/he is subject to a final abuse prevention order or an extreme risk protection order issued in Massachusetts or another state.1

      In addition, if the judge believes that there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse, the judge is supposed to order the immediate suspension of the abuser’s license to carry firearms and firearm identification card as part of your temporary ex parte order or emergency order.2 If the judge does not issue an ex parte or emergency order, or if the judge does not include this order for suspension and surrender, be sure to ask for it in the hearing for your final abuse prevention order.

      In addition, unlike in other states, Massachusetts law clearly states that when law enforcement serves the abuse prevention order, summons, and complaint upon the defendant, the defendant must immediately hand over (surrender) all of the following to law enforcement:

      • his/her license to carry firearms;
      • his/her firearms identification card; and
      • all firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns and ammunition that s/he controls, owns, or possesses.2

      The defendant does have the right to petition the court to ask the judge to reconsider the order for suspension and surrender. The issue would then be set down for a hearing within ten business days after the the abuser files the petition. However, if the defendant files an affidavit with the petition in which s/he explains that a firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, or ammunition is required for his/her job, s/he can request that the hearing be held within two business days.3 You will be notified of the hearing and have an opportunity to be present.

      Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict a person’s right to have a gun under certain circumstances. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

      1 Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(d)(vi)
      2 Mass. Gen. Laws 209A §§ 3B; 7
      3 Mass. Gen. Laws 209A § 3B

      Is 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?

      Depending on the judge in your case, there may be some things you can do to increase the chances that the judge will require that an abuser’s guns are taken away. Keep in mind these tips may or may not result in the outcome that you are hoping for. Every judge is different. However, here are a few suggestions that may help:

      • If the abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many guns s/he has, and if s/he has ever shown you the guns or displayed them as a way to intimidate you and maintain control over you.
      • Ask the judge to specifically write in your protective order that the abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun while the order is in effect. The form that you will have to fill out to petition for a protective order will have a place where you can request additional protections. You can ask that the abuser’s gun(s) be taken away in that section.
      • 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 protection 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.
      • If the gun restriction is granted, check to make sure that it is written on your order before leaving the courthouse.

      Guns and Criminal Convictions

      If the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

      Massachusetts state law says that you can only get a license to have or buy a gun if:

      • you have not been convicted of a felony;
      • you have not been convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years of imprisonment;
      • you have not been convicted of a violent crime; and
      • you have not been convicted of any weapons or drug-related offenses;
      • you are not a fugitive from justice; and
      • you are not subject to an outstanding arrest warrant.1

      The conviction preventing a person from getting a firearm license could have happened in Massachusetts state court, in any other state’s court, or in federal court.2

      Federal laws, which apply to all states, also restrict a person’s right to have a gun if s/he has been convicted of certain crimes. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

      1 Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(d)(i)
      2 Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(d)(ii)

      How can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

      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 What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

      The Abuser Isn’t Supposed to Have a Gun…Now What?

      If the abuser's gun 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 law enforcement or another “licensing authority” where s/he lives as soon as possible. Within one year from the time the gun is surrendered, the abuser can request that it be transferred to a licensed firearms dealer or to another person who has a firearms license for sale or storage. If a request to transfer the gun has not been made after a year, then the gun will be sold at public auction.1

      1 Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 129D

      Who 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 Advocates and Shelters 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.1

      1United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

      What is the penalty for violating the firearm laws?

      Under Massachusetts state law, anyone who violates the firearm provision of an abuse prevention order can be punished by a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to two and a half years, or both.1

      Generally, any person who possesses a firearm outside of his/her home or place of business without a firearm license can be punished by prison time of up to five years or jail time of up to two and a half years.2

      Also, anyone who violates Massachusetts’ firearm licensing laws can be punished by a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.3

      1 Mass. Gen. Laws 209A § 3B
      2 Mass. Gen. Laws 269 § 10(a)
      3 Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(a)

      What 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). The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used by federal firearms licensees (FFLs), such as firearms dealers or pawnbrokers, to instantly determine whether someone is eligible to receive (own, possess, transport) firearms or explosives.1 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 legally 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 and so in those situations, the seller is not looking in the NICS.

      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.

      1 National Criminal Justice Reference Service website

      More Information and Where to Get Help

      I 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, s/he is not allowed to have or possess a gun if s/he:

      • has been committed to a hospital/institution for mental illness, alcohol or substance abuse (unless after five 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;
      • has been 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.1

      If none of these situations apply, you can still make a plan for your safety. See our Safety Tips 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 Advocates and Shelters page.

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

      1 Mass. Gen. Laws 140 § 131(d)

      I'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 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 our MA Places that Help page.
      • You can write to our Email Hotline.