See our Background Checks Policy Summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)

Massachusetts is not a point of contact state for the NICS. As a result, in Massachusetts, firearms dealers must initiate the background check required by federal law by contacting the FBI directly.1 A state administrative regulation confirms this requirement.2

Massachusetts also requires firearms owners to obtain a state license prior to purchase of a firearm, and the applicant for a license must undergo a background check before the license is issued. For more information about these licenses, see Licensing of Gun Owners or Purchasers below. Massachusetts requires firearms dealers to verify the validity of a potential transferee’s license prior to transferring a firearm.3 For licenses issued via the Massachusetts Instant Record Check System (MIRCS), the dealer must electronically submit:

  • The transferee’s license number;
  • The licensing authority that issued the license;
  • The type of firearm being purchased; and
  • Whether or not the firearm is a large capacity weapon.4

The dealer must then verify the transferee’s identity and validity of his or her license by scanning the fingerprint or entering the personal identification number contained on the license.5 If the license presented is expired, suspended or revoked, the dealer must notify the licensing authority and may take possession of it (in the latter case, the dealer must provide the holder with a receipt for the FID, permit or license, notify the holder of the need to renew the FID, permit or license, and forward it to the licensing authority).6

Massachusetts does not allow private sellers (sellers who are not licensed dealers) to sell more than four guns a year.7. Although Massachusetts does not explicitly require private sellers to conduct a background check of prospective purchasers, in 2014, Massachusetts enacted a law requiring the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services to develop a web portal through which private sellers of firearms must conduct a real-time check of the validity of the purchaser’s Firearm Identification Card and other necessary licenses.8

For more information about Massachusetts licensing of gun owners and laws governing private sales, see Licensing of Gun Owners & Purchasers in Massachusetts and Private Sales.

 

Notes
  1. Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Instant Criminal Background Check System Participation Map, at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics/general-information/participation-map. ⤴︎
  2. 803 Mass. Code Regs. 10.07(3)(directing a gun dealer to contact the “national instant check system”). ⤴︎
  3. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Thirteenth). ⤴︎
  4. 803 Mass. Code Regs. 10.06(1)(a). ⤴︎
  5. 803 Mass. Code Regs. 10.04, 10.06(1)(c). ⤴︎
  6. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Thirteenth). ⤴︎
  7. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 128A ⤴︎
  8. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 128A. ⤴︎