State Argues 18 Year Olds Can Purchase Handguns in Massachusetts

On October 7, 2010 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Mass SJC) heard oral arguments in the case of Commonwealth v. Powell (SJC-10783). This was a case of an 18 year resident being charged with unlawful possession of a handgun outside the home. Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL) filed a friend of the court brief in the case primarily to protect the Heller and McDonald decisions. In doing so part of our argument was that the Massachusetts statutes barring 18 – 20 years old adults from possessing handguns or even applying for a license to carry was a violation of their constitutional rights.

The surprise of the oral arguments from the state was that no such outright ban existed as the gun laws of Massachusetts allow 18 year old residents to purchase and possess handguns. Really?! It gets even better. According to the state’s arguing attorney the laws of the state allow residents over the age of 15 to carry a handgun in the home!

I urge everyone reading this article to watch the state’s argument via video: http://www.suffolk.edu/sjc/archive/2010/SJC_10783.html (Minutes 22:30 - 27:00) It is important to watch this section of the video for two reasons. First is the argument put forth about the purchase and possession of handguns. Second, it is a fabulous education on the incomprehensible laws of the Commonwealth. Watch the attorney and the justices try to wade through only a small part of the statutes to determine what is legal. Anyone having watched this can only come to the conclusion that average citizens have no chance of understanding what is legal and what is not.

Getting back to the case arguments, for the most part they surrounded Chapter 269, Section 10:
Section 10. (a) Whoever, except as provided or exempted by statute, knowingly has in his possession; or knowingly has under his control in a vehicle; a firearm, loaded or unloaded, as defined in section one hundred and twenty-one of chapter one hundred and forty without either:

In oral arguments the state contested that an outright ban did not exist because an 18 year with a Firearms Identification Card (FID) and a Permit to Purchase issued under Chapter 140, Section 131A could in fact purchase handgun in the Commonwealth and possess it in the home. The arguing attorney cited the exemption in Chapter 269, Section 10(h)(1): Whoever owns, possesses or transfers a firearm, rifle, shotgun or ammunition without complying with the provisions of section 129C of chapter 140…

Since the part of the state’s arguments relies on 129C we must explore that section. Chapter 140, Section 129C. No person, other than a licensed dealer or one who has been issued a license to carry a pistol or revolver or an exempt person as hereinafter described, shall own or possess any firearm, rifle, shotgun or ammunition unless he has been issued a firearm identification card by the licensing authority pursuant to the provisions of section one hundred and twenty-nine B.

This is one of the most confusing and poorly written parts of Chapter 140. The exemptions are very lengthy and take some time to decipher. However, there is a much clearer path to the answer the state is looking for and it is actually in the FID law. Section 129B clearly states that a holder of an FID Card is not “entitled” to possess unless under the supervision of a an LTC holder:

Chapter 140, 129B (6) A firearm identification card shall not entitle a holder thereof to possess: (i) a large capacity firearm or large capacity feeding device therefor, except under a Class A license issued to a shooting club as provided under section 131 or under the direct supervision of a holder of a Class A license issued to an individual under section 131 at an incorporated shooting club or licensed shooting range; or (ii) a non-large capacity firearm or large capacity rifle or shotgun or large capacity feeding device therefor, except under a Class A license issued to a shooting club as provided under section 131 or under the direct supervision of a holder of a Class A or Class B license issued to an individual under section 131 at an incorporated shooting club or licensed shooting range.

So it appears that Section 129B covers the possession issue, but what about the purchase of a handgun through the Permit to Purchase? Firstly, I am not aware that a Permit to Purchase has ever been issued. It might be the case that one has, but I have never seen any evidence that one exists. In any case such permits are covered under Chapter 140, Section 131A:

Chapter 140, Section 131A. A licensing authority under section one hundred and thirty-one, upon the application of a person qualified to be granted a license thereunder by such authority, may grant to such a person, other than a minor, a permit to purchase, rent or lease a firearm if it appears that such purchase, rental or lease is for a proper purpose, and may revoke such permit at will…

A clear reading of section 131A states that a person must be qualified under Section 131 (LTC Statute) in order to receive a Permit to Purchase. Unfortunately for the state’s argument, and the civil rights of 18 – 20 year olds, one of the mandatory disqualifiers for an LTC and Section 131 is:

Chapter 140, Section 131(d)(iv) is at the time of the application less than 21 years of age

According to the research here, a person under 21 years of age is not eligible for a Permit to Purchase and a holder of an FID Card is not “entitled” to possess a handgun without the supervision of an LTC holder. With that in mind one must question whether the state is capable of interpreting its own laws? A case could also be made that the state is trying to pull a fast one here to undermine Heller and McDonald. It is important to remember that the Mass SJC called for the case. That alone should cause us to question motives.

It will certainly be an interesting law lesson to see how this case is decided. The arguments before the Court on this one small part of the state gun laws is also a tremendous example of the unequivocal need for massive reforms. www.MassGunLawReform.com anyone?


 

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  • 11/17/2011 6:52 AM fixthis wrote:
    this is crazy!!!! as a young Massachusetts resident i would love some clarity from the suits my parents pay taxes to!!!!! GETTIT RIGHT OR GET OUT OF OFFICE.....
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