More on Runyan

More on Runyan;

The other question concerning the Runyan case (COMMONWEALTH vs. Richard RUNYAN SJC-10480) that we got at the GOAL office was did it clarify the storage laws or just OK them? According to the court records: The defendant was charged in the Lowell Division of the District Court Department with storing or keeping a firearm that was not "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 of other lawfully authorized user," in violation of G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a )
The particular section of law is as follows: Section 131L. (a) 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.

Before getting into what the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (MassSJC) said about the storage laws, it is important to know exactly what the Supreme Court of the United States said about them in general in the Heller decision. In the holdings in Heller, number 3 clearly stated: “3. The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment.” I don’t think that statement could be any more clear on the federal court’s view on trigger locks. With that knowledge we can now explore the MassSJC ruling in Runyan.

The MassSJC ruling concerning the storage laws starts off by referring to the lower court’s dismissal as “erroneous”. “The judge's second erroneous premise was that the provisions of G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a ), are indistinguishable from those held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Heller. General Laws, c. 140, § 131L (a ), provides:”

The term erroneous is bad enough to use at that level of law, but the reason for it was that the MassSJC decided not to actually enforce the Heller ruling itself. Instead the MassSJC decided to come up with their own interpretation based on a comparison of the Massachusetts storage laws and the Washington D.C. code that was challenged in Heller. The following paragraph from the Runyan decision is how the MassSJC explains their opinion that ignores holding number 3 in Heller.

D.C.Code § 7-2507.02 (2008). Under this provision, a person registered to keep a firearm (apart from law enforcement personnel) was prohibited in any circumstance from carrying or keeping a loaded firearm in his or her home. The ordinance prohibited a registered gun owner from keeping even an unloaded firearm in his or her home unless it was disassembled or rendered inoperable by a trigger lock or similar device. The Supreme Court ruled that the District of Columbia's requirement "that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times" made it "impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional." Heller, supra at 2818. General Law c. 140, § 131L (a ), does not require that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times and does not prohibit a licensed gun owner from carrying a loaded firearm in the home; the statute therefore does not make it impossible for those persons licensed to possess firearms to rely on them for lawful self-defense. [FN7], [FN8]

So the court ignored the actual holdings of Heller and used its own diagnosis of the Massachusetts law versus the D.C. Code. If that were not bad enough, they did so by adding a caveat by means of [FN7]. In this note the MassSJC actually acknowledges that its ruling would probably not stand if they recognized the Second Amendment as a civil right.

FN7. We note that the Court in Heller, supra at 2820, declared that its analysis should not be taken to "suggest the invalidity of laws regulating the storage of firearms to prevent accidents." We do not, however, decide whether the defendant's alleged violation of G.L. c. 140, § 131L (a ), could survive a motion to dismiss if the Second Amendment were made applicable to the States through incorporation under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause.

As for clarifying anything regarding the storage laws, the court actually made things more confusing. In a single paragraph of the decision the MassSJC stated several things that have only added to the confusion about when a gun needs to be locked in Massachusetts.

The first was: “Under this provision, an individual with a valid firearms identification card issued under G.L. c. 140, § 129C, is not obliged to secure or render inoperable a firearm while the individual carries it or while it remains otherwise under the individual's control.” Firearm Identification Cards (FID Cards) are not issued under G.L. c. 140, § 129C they are issued under G.L. c. 140, § 129B. Also, FID Card holders cannot possess or carry firearms. Under G.L. c. 140, § 121 a firearm is legally defined as a pistol or revolver neither of which can be owned under and FID Card. These two points already should place doubt as to whether the justices are educated enough on the state’s gun laws to make a ruling on them.

Adding to the confusion is the following statement: “A gun owner may therefore carry or keep a loaded firearm under his or her control in his or her home without securing it with a trigger lock or comparable safety device.” Traditional views of the law have always been that in order for a gun to be under your direct control you must be carrying it in some fashion. This statement seems to say something different as it states “carry or … under his or her control”. This now begs the question when is a gun under your control when you are not carrying it?

That question is even more complicated by the sentence that follows it because it adds the word “immediate”. “The gun owner's obligation to secure the firearm in accordance with the statute arises only when the firearm is stored or otherwise outside the owner's immediate control. [FN6]”

The confusing language of the decision does not favor any reasonable conclusions from the language that was used. In fact the decision has actually muddied the waters even further as to what control means. With all of this confusion in the Runyan ruling, there is still more.

The paragraph in Runyan ruling dealing with “control” referenced footnote number 6, FN6.

FN6. This statutory obligation owed by one who keeps firearms in the home to secure those firearms safely is separate and distinct from the common-law duty of a home owner to ensure that the firearms stored on the property are properly secured when the home owner "allows unsupervised access to that property by a person known by her to have a history of violence and mental instability." Jupin v. Kask, 447 Mass. 141, 143 (2006).

This note basically says that if you allow someone in your home that meets a certain classification, and something happens, you can be exposed to legal action even if you meet the storage law requirements. As with most Massachusetts laws regarding guns, the key to this will be what meets the definition of “history of violence and mental instability”.

Unfortunately the Runyan decision has left us with more questions and certainly more uncertainty about our civil rights.


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  • 3/19/2010 2:38 PM vincent galvin wrote:
    they (the judges) don't seem to care about us (the people) if they did one would think they (judges) would know the law or study up before making a ruling. It also seems that they are trying to legislate common sense.
    Reply to this
  • 3/20/2010 8:28 PM Michael David Rubin wrote:
    Very useful discussion - keep it up!
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