Ammunition Regulation in Massachusetts

See our Ammunition Regulation policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Massachusetts law does not regulate or prohibit any types of unreasonably dangerous ammunition. Massachusetts does, however, do each of the following things, as described below:

  • Require a license for the purchase or possession of ammunition;
  • Impose a minimum age to purchase or possess ammunition; and
  • Require a license to sell ammunition.

Licensing of Ammunition Purchasers and Possessors

Massachusetts requires a firearm license to purchase or possess ammunition. Any person with a license to carry is permitted to purchase, rent, lease, borrow, possess and carry all types of lawful firearms, including both large and non-large capacity handguns, rifles, shotguns, and feeding devices and ammunition for these firearms.1

Alternatively, in Massachusetts, any person may purchase and possess rifles, shotguns and “non large capacity” feeding devices and ammunition for rifles and shotguns with a valid firearm identification (FID) card.2 To purchase a handgun and ammunition for a handgun, a FID card holder must also obtain a permit to purchase a handgun.3 Massachusetts law penalizes anyone who sells ammunition to a person who does not have the required license(s). For detailed information on licensing requirements for firearm owners in Massachusetts, see the section on Licensing of Gun Owners & Purchasers.

Minimum Age to Purchase / Possess Ammunition

Massachusetts law prohibits selling or furnishing long gun ammunition to anyone under age 18, and ammunition for a handgun, large capacity weapon, or large capacity feeding device to a person under age 21.4

Ammunition Seller Licensing

Massachusetts requires any person who sells ammunition to obtain a license. The chief of police or the board or officer having control of the police in a city or town may grant a license after a criminal history check, to anyone who is not:

  • An alien;
  • A minor;
  • A person who has been adjudicated a youthful offender, including those who have not received an adult sentence; or
  • A person who has been convicted of a felony in any state or federal jurisdiction, or of the unlawful use, possession or sale of narcotic or harmful drugs.

The license must specify the street and number, if any, of the building where the business is to be carried on. The Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) conducts the background check, and the local issuing authority must send CJIS a copy of the license.5

Alternatively, a sporting or shooting club may obtain a license to sell or supply ammunition for regulated shooting on the premises.6

Ammunition seller licenses are valid for three years.7

Notes
  1. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(a). ⤴︎
  2. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129C. ⤴︎
  3. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 131A, 131E. ⤴︎
  4. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 130, 131E. ⤴︎
  5. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 122B. ⤴︎
  6. Id. ⤴︎
  7. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 124. ⤴︎

Assault Weapons in Massachusetts

See our Assault Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

No person in Massachusetts may sell, offer for sale, transfer or possess an assault weapon (or large capacity feeding device, see the Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines section) that was not otherwise lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994.1 Firearms dealers are also specifically prohibited from selling, leasing, renting, transferring, delivering, or offering for sale, lease, rent, transfer or delivery, any assault weapon or large capacity feeding device not otherwise lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994.2

Massachusetts defines “assault weapon” by referring to the definition of semi-automatic assault weapon contained in federal law as it appeared on September 13, 1994 (that federal statute expired on September 13, 2004).3 The definition includes a list of named weapons and copies of those weapons; semi-automatic rifles and pistols that have the ability to accept a detachable magazine and have at least two specified characteristics; and semi-automatic shotguns that have at least two specified characteristics.

Notes
  1. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131M. ⤴︎
  2. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Sixteenth). ⤴︎
  3. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 121 (referring to the federal Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, former 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(30) ). ⤴︎

Background Checks in Massachusetts

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. ⤴︎

Child Access Prevention in Massachusetts

See our Child Access Prevention policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Massachusetts law prohibits the storage or keeping of any firearm in any place unless the gun is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device and properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user.1 Massachusetts law also penalizes a lawful owner or user who keeps or stores non-large capacity rifles or shotguns in a place where a person under age 18 who does not possess a valid firearm identification card may gain access to the firearm.2 Furthermore, a lawful owner or user may not keep or store a rifle or shotgun that is a large capacity weapon, a handgun, or a machine gun in a place where any person under age 18 may gain access to the firearm.3

For additional laws related to safely securing and storing firearms, please see the Locking Devices section.

 

Notes
  1. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131L(a). ⤴︎
  2. Ch. 140, § 131L(c). ⤴︎
  3. Ch. 140, § 131L(d). ⤴︎

Concealed Weapons Permitting in Massachusetts

See our Carrying Concealed Weapons policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Massachusetts allows a person to carry a firearm in public if the person has the appropriate license.1

Massachusetts prohibits the possession of a loaded rifle or shotgun on any public way, regardless of whether the possessor has a Firearm Identification Card (FID) or license to carry.2 Unloaded rifles or shotguns may be carried on a public way so long as they are enclosed in a case, and the person has the appropriate permit.3

A license to carry entitles the possessor to purchase, possess, rent, borrow, lease and carry all types of lawful firearms, including handguns and large capacity firearms, and feeding devices and ammunition for these firearms.4 A licensing authority may impose further restrictions it deems proper on the licensee regarding the possession or use of large capacity rifles or shotguns.5

Massachusetts is a “may-issue” state for the issuance of licenses to carry firearms, meaning that the local licensing authority has discretion in determining whether or not to issue either license type to an applicant. It may deny the application or renewal of an applicant, or suspend or revoke a license, if in the “reasonable exercise of discretion,” the licensing authority determines that the applicant or licensee is unsuitable to carry a firearm. A determination of unsuitability must be based on reliable and credible information that the individual has exhibited or engaged in behavior that he or she poses a risk to public safety.6 A license to carry will be revoked or suspended by the licensing authority upon the occurrence of any event that would have disqualified the holder from being issued the license, or if it appears to the licensing authority that the holder is no longer a suitable person to possess the license.7 Upon the denial of an application or renewal, or the suspension or revocation, of a license to carry based on unsuitability, the licensing authority must notify the applicant or licensee of the specific reasons for the determination.8

The licensing authority or the colonel of state police may issue a license to carry to any person who:

  • Resides or has a place of business within the jurisdiction of a particular licensing authority, or any person residing in an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction located within a city or town.9 However, A temporary license to carry firearms may be issued by the colonel of state police to a nonresident of Massachusetts or any person not falling within the jurisdiction of a local licensing authority “for purposes of firearms competition and subject to such terms and conditions as said colonel may deem proper.”10
  • Is a suitable person to be issued such license, and has good reason to fear injury to his person or property, or for any other reason, including the carrying of firearms for use in sport or target practice only.
  • Has not been convicted or adjudicated a youthful offender or delinquent child;
  • Has not been committed to a hospital or institution for mental illness, alcohol or substance abuse;
  • Is not subject to an order of the probate court appointing a guardian or conservator for a incapacitated person on the grounds that the applicant lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage the applicant’s affairs;
  • Is greater than 21 years of age;
  • Is not an alien who does not maintain lawful permanent residency;
  • Is not subject to a temporary or emergency restraining order, or order of protection;
  • Is not currently the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant in any state or federal jurisdiction;
  • Has not been discharged from the armed forces of the United States under dishonorable conditions;
  • Is not a fugitive from justice; or
  • Having been a citizen of the United States, has not renounced that citizenship. ((Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(d).))

The licensing authority has 40 days from the date an application is submitted to approve or deny the application for a license to carry.11

Applicants whose licenses have been revoked or suspended must surrender their license to the licensing authority, and must surrender their firearms.12 Individuals who possess firearms without the proper card or license for the firearm possessed may face fines and prison time.13

See the Licensing of Gun Purchasers / Owners section for further information.

Firearm Safety Training

Persons applying for a license to carry and who were not in possession of a FID or either license type prior to June 1, 1998 must submit a basic firearms safety certificate (“BFSC”) to the licensing authority.14 No application for the issuance of a license to carry will be accepted or processed by the licensing authority without this certificate.15 To obtain a BFSC, an applicant must successfully complete a basic firearms safety course.16

Duration & Renewal

Once issued, a Massachusetts license to carry firearms is valid for up to six years from the date of issue.17

Disclosure or Use of Information

Massachusetts does not allow the names and addresses of license holders to be made public.18 Names and addresses that are exempt from the definition of “public records” include those that:

  • Are contained in or referred to on an application for a license to carry;
  • Appear on sale or transfer forms for any handguns, rifles, shotguns, or machine guns or ammunition; or
  • Appear on an actual license to carry.19

The executive director of the criminal history systems board is required to promulgate rules and regulations “to ensure the prompt collection, exchange, dissemination and distribution of firearms record information…”20

Reciprocity

A non-resident may carry a pistol or revolver in the state when engaging in a firearm competition, while attending any meeting or exhibition of any organized group of firearm collectors, or for the purpose of hunting, if he or she:

  • Is a resident of the United States; and
  • Has a permit or license to carry firearms issued under the laws of any state or local jurisdiction having regulations that prohibit the issuance of permits or licenses to persons who have been convicted of a felony or of the unlawful use, possession or sale of narcotic or harmful drugs; or
  • For a hunter traveling in or through Massachusetts, possesses a hunting or sporting license issued by Massachusetts or the state of his or her destination.21
Notes
  1. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, § 10. ⤴︎
  2. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, § 12D. Exceptions exist for hunting purposes. Id. ⤴︎
  3. Id. For information on the carrying of firearms for hunting, see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 131, §§ 11, 14, 70. ⤴︎
  4. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131E. ⤴︎
  5. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(a), (b). ⤴︎
  6. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131. ⤴︎
  7. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(f). ⤴︎
  8. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131. ⤴︎
  9. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(d). ⤴︎
  10. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131F. ⤴︎
  11. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(e). ⤴︎
  12. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129D, 131(f). ⤴︎
  13. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, § 10. ⤴︎
  14. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131P(a). ⤴︎
  15. Id. ⤴︎
  16. 515 Mass. Code Regs. 3.01 et seq. ⤴︎
  17. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(i). ⤴︎
  18. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 66, § 10B. ⤴︎
  19. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, § 7 (Twenty-sixth)(j). ⤴︎
  20. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, § 168B. An amendment effective Nov 4, 2012 will transfer this responsibility to the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services. ⤴︎
  21. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131G. ⤴︎

Dealer Regulations in Massachusetts

See our Dealer Regulations policy for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Federal law requires firearms dealers to obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), although resource limitations prevent the ATF from properly overseeing all its licensees.

Massachusetts law requires any person who sells, rents, or leases a firearm to possess a Massachusetts firearms dealer license.1 This requirement does not apply to an unlicensed Massachusetts resident who transfers “not more than four” firearms in any one calendar year, so long as both the buyer and the seller have the proper cards, permits or licenses to possess or purchase firearms, and the seller reports the sale to the state.2

A city or town police department (“licensing authority”) may, after an investigation into the criminal history of the applicant, grant a firearms dealer license to any person except:

  • An alien;
  • A minor (under 18 years of age) (note, however, that the licensing authority requests an applicant’s Federal Firearms License (FFL) during the background investigation of an applicant for a state license, and federal law requires that an applicant for a FFL be at least 21 years of age);
  • A person who has been adjudicated a “youthful offender,” including those who have not received an adult sentence; or
  • A person who has been convicted of a felony, or of the unlawful use, possession or sale of narcotic or harmful drugs.3

Every license must specify the street and number of the building where the business will be located.4 A firearms dealer’s business must not be located in a residence or dwelling and must be in the location identified on the license.5 The licensing authority is required to submit one copy of an applicant’s fingerprints to the department of state police, who must, within a reasonable period of time, advise the licensing authority in writing of any criminal record of the applicant.6 The licensing authority must also send a copy of the application to the commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services.7

A law enacted in 2014 requires firearms dealers to conduct background checks of employees prior to hiring them. Dealers must search the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Information Services database for criminal offender information to determine the employee’s suitability to have direct and unmonitored contact with firearms. The law also requires dealers to conduct background checks of existing employees by July 1, 2015.8

Under federal law, federally licensed firearms dealers must conduct background checks on prospective purchasers each time the dealer transfers a firearm. Massachusetts also requires that dealers verify the validity of a potential transferee’s license prior to transferring a firearm. For further information, see the Massachusetts Background Checks section.

The licensing authority is required to conduct, and a dealer must submit to, one mandatory records and inventory inspection per year and a dealer’s records must be open to inspection by law enforcement “at all times.”9

A firearms dealer must not display any firearm in any outer window or in any place where it can be readily seen from the outside.10

For recordkeeping requirements, see the Retention of Sales / Background Checks Records section.

Any dealer who loses a firearm or has a firearm stolen must report the loss or theft “forthwith” to the licensing authority and the executive director of the criminal history systems board.11 The report must include a complete description of the weapon, including the make, model, serial number, caliber and whether such weapon is a “large capacity weapon.” (“Large capacity” includes assault weapons and most firearms capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition or more than five shotgun shells (either directly, or via a large capacity feeding device)).12

Massachusetts law prohibits any person from selling or furnishing a rifle, shotgun, machine gun or ammunition to any person under age 18 or selling or furnishing a handgun or large capacity rifle or shotgun or ammunition for those firearms to anyone under age 21.13

Any person selling firearm ammunition in Massachusetts must possess a license to do so.14 This license—distinct from a firearms dealer license—is subject to the same basic conditions as the dealer license.15 Once issued, both license types expire three years from the date of issuance.16

For further information on firearm-related sales restrictions for safety purposes, please see the Design Safety Standards section.

For additional Massachusetts laws related to these topics, please see the Licensing of Gun Purchasers/Owners and Registration of Firearms sections.

Notes
  1. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 122, 128. ⤴︎
  2. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 128A. It also excludes an unlicensed person who transfers a firearm to a state or federally licensed dealer or to a historical society, museum or institutional collection that is open to the public. Id. ⤴︎
  3. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 122. ⤴︎
  4. Id. ⤴︎
  5. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 122, 123 (First, Fifteenth). ⤴︎
  6. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 122. ⤴︎
  7. Id. ⤴︎
  8. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, §§ 172, 172L; Act of Aug. 13, 2014, Mass. Pub. L. No. 284-2014, Section 99. ⤴︎
  9. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Second). ⤴︎
  10. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Fourth). ⤴︎
  11. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Seventeenth). ⤴︎
  12. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 121, 129B(6). ⤴︎
  13. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 130. ⤴︎
  14. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 122B. ⤴︎
  15. Id. ⤴︎
  16. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 124. ⤴︎

Design Safety Standards for Handguns in Massachusetts

See our Design Safety Standards for Handguns policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

Massachusetts generally prohibits licensed firearms dealers from transferring any handgun that does not meet detailed safety standards.1 Dealers may sell at retail only “approved firearms” – handguns with a make and model approved for sale by the Secretary of Public Safety (“Secretary”).2 These handguns meet or exceed the testing criteria outlined in Massachusetts law, as determined by independent firearm testing laboratories approved by the Secretary.3 Approved firearms are added to the Massachusetts Approved Firearms Roster (“Roster”). In addition, handguns sold in Massachusetts must meet the design safety standards established by the Attorney General, which are discussed below at the end of the section.

An approved testing laboratory must determine whether a handgun:

  • Has “a frame, barrel, cylinder, slide or breechblock that is composed of: 1) any metal having a melting point of less than 900 degrees Fahrenheit; 2) any metal having an ultimate tensile strength of less than 55,000 pounds per square inch; or 3) any powdered metal having a density of less than 7.5 grams per cubic centimeter.” This requirement does not apply to any make and model of handgun that passes, in new condition, specific firing tests;4
  • Is prone to accidental discharge as measured by drop testing;5
  • Is prone to: 1) firing more than once per pull of the trigger; or 2) exploding during firing;6 and
  • Has a barrel less than three inches in length; however, this restriction does not apply if the dealer discloses to the prospective purchaser in writing, prior to the transaction, the limitations of the accuracy of the particular make and model. To this end, the dealer must disclose the make and model’s average group diameter test result (meaning the average of three tests using three sample firearms, with each firearm firing five rounds at a target from a set distance and measuring and recording the largest spread in inches between the centers of any of the holes made in the test targets) at seven yards, 14 yards and 21 yards.7

These requirements do not apply to: 1) any handgun lawfully owned or possessed under a license issued under Chapter 140 on or before October 21, 1998; or 2) any handgun designated by the Secretary with the advice of the Gun Control Advisory Board as a handgun solely designed and sold for formal target or Olympic shooting competition, with the advice of the state gun control advisory board.8

Any person may petition the Secretary to place a handgun on or remove a handgun from the Roster, but must do so within 90 days of the Secretary’s original decision denying or approving the gun for inclusion on the Roster.9

Massachusetts, through the initiative of its Attorney General, was the first state to utilize statutory powers under the state’s consumer protection laws to implement gun safety regulations. Current gun safety regulations prohibit the sale of handguns made from inferior materials or without certain safety features, require the sale of a handgun to be accompanied with certain safety warnings, and govern the placement of serial numbers on handguns.10 For more information about the Massachusetts regulation governing the placement of serial numbers, see the Trafficking section below.

Notes
  1. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (clauses Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth and Twenty-first). ⤴︎
  2. 501 Mass. Code Regs. 7.02. ⤴︎
  3. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-First); 501 Mass. Code Regs. 7.02. ⤴︎
  4. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Eighteenth). ⤴︎
  5. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Nineteenth). ⤴︎
  6. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Twentieth). ⤴︎
  7. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Twenty-First). ⤴︎
  8. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123. ⤴︎
  9. 501 Mass. Code Regs. 7.06(1). ⤴︎
  10. 940 Mass. Code Regs. 16.03-16.07. For details on the authority of the Massachusetts Attorney General to regulate junk guns, as well as promulgate other firearms safety standards, see the report “Targeting Safety,” by the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (now Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence). ⤴︎

Disarming Prohibited Persons in Massachusetts

General Relinquishment Requirements

Under Massachusetts law, local FID card licensing authorities must revoke a person’s FID card following the occurrence of any event that renders the cardholder prohibited from possessing firearms.1 Upon receipt of the written notice of revocation from the licensing authority, the prohibited person must “without delay” deliver or surrender all firearms and ammunition in his or her possession to the licensing authority where he or she resides.2

After taking possession of those firearms, the licensing authority may transfer possession of the weapons to a licensed firearms dealer for storage purposes. The dealer must issue a receipt to the prohibited person, who is liable to the dealer for reasonable storage charges. Through the dealer, the prohibited person may then transfer any relinquished firearms to a person lawfully permitted to purchase or take possession of the weapon. After a year in storage, or 90 days of unpaid storage charges, relinquished firearms must be sold at public auction by the state police. After deduction and payment for storage charges and all costs associated with the surrender and transfer of the firearms, any surplus proceeds must be immediately returned to the prohibited person.3

Since 2014, Massachusetts law has also provided a standard process for law enforcement agencies to petition a court to seek the denial or suspension of a FID card from a person who is “unsuitable” to possess firearms because they are a public safety risk. For more information about this process, see the Massachusetts Licensing of Gun Owners section.

Domestic Violence Protective Orders

For information regarding relinquishment of firearms from abusers subject to domestic violence protective orders in Massachusetts, see the Domestic Violence & Firearms in Massachusetts section.

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

In 2018, Massachusetts enacted an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) law, to authorize a person’s family members,  household members, and current or former dating partners, as well as the law enforcement FID Card licensing authority in the jurisdiction where the person resides, to petition a court for a civil order preventing a dangerous person from accessing firearms for up to one year.4

In order to obtain an ERPO, the petitioner must file a petition with a court under oath, which does the following:5

  • States any relevant facts supporting the petition;
  • Identifies the reasons why the petitioner believes the respondent poses a risk of causing bodily injury to self or others by having in the respondent’s control, ownership or possession a firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, weapon or ammunition;
  • Identifies the number, types and locations of any firearms, rifles, shotguns, machine guns, weapons or ammunition the petitioner believes to be in the respondent’s current control, ownership or possession;
  • Identifies whether there is an abuse prevention order pursuant to chapter 209A, a harassment prevention order pursuant to chapter 258E or an order similar to an abuse prevention or harassment prevention order issued by another jurisdiction in effect against the respondent; and
  • Identifies whether there is a pending lawsuit, complaint, petition or other legal action between the parties to the petition.

In most cases, the court is required to provide notice of a hearing to the respondent and hold the hearing within 10 days of receiving the ERPO petition.6

If, after the hearing, the judge concludes by a preponderance of the evidence that the respondent poses a risk of causing bodily injury to self or others by having control, ownership or possession a firearm or ammunition, the court will issue an ERPO Order prohibiting the respondent from possessing or receiving firearms for the duration of the order.7

If the court issues an ERPO, it must also order the respondent to relinquish any licenses to carry firearms or FID card, and all firearms and ammunition that the respondent controls, owns or possesses, to the licensing authority of the municipality where the respondent resides. ((Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131S(d).)) The clerk magistrate of the court will also notify the local licensing authority where the respondent resides that an ERPO has been issued, and the licensing authority must immediately suspend the respondent’s license to carry firearms or FID card and immediately notify the respondent of said suspension.8 The local licensing authority will also file receipts with the court verifying that the respondent properly relinquished his or her firearms.9

In urgent cases, a court may issue an emergency ERPO, prior to providing notice and a hearing, if the court finds reasonable cause to conclude that the respondent poses a risk of causing bodily injury to self or others by being in possession of a license to carry firearms or FID card or having in control, ownership or possession a firearm or ammunition.10 The emergency ERPO may generally only be in effect for up to 10 days, before the court holds a full hearing on whether to grant a longer ERPO.

Upon termination of the ERPO, the licensing authority holding any of the respondent’s weapons will return them to the respondent after performing a background check to ensure the respondent is legally permitted to possess firearms.11

Massachusetts makes it a crime to file a petition for an ERPO knowing the information in the petition to be materially false or with an intent to harass the respondent.12

For more information about ERPO laws, visit our Extreme Risk Protection Orders policy page.

 

Notes
  1. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129B. ⤴︎
  2. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129D. ⤴︎
  3. Id. ⤴︎
  4. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131R. This law defines eligible petitioners to include a person’s “family or household member, or the licensing authority of the municipality where the respondent resides, related by blood or present marriage to the respondent, or a person who shares a common dwelling with the respondent.” “Family or household member” is defined to mean a person who: (i) is or was married to the respondent; (ii) is or was residing with the respondent in the same household; (iii) is or was related by blood or marriage to the respondent; (iv) has or is having a child in common with the respondent, regardless of whether they have ever married or lived together; (v) is or has been in a substantive dating relationship with the respondent; or (vi) is or has been engaged to the respondent.” Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 121. ⤴︎
  5. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131R(b). ⤴︎
  6. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131S. ⤴︎
  7. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131S(c). ⤴︎
  8. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131S(f). ⤴︎
  9. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131S(g). ⤴︎
  10. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131T. ⤴︎
  11. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131S(i). ⤴︎
  12. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131V. ⤴︎

Domestic Violence & Firearms in Massachusetts

See our Domestic Violence & Firearms policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.

A 2014 Massachusetts law prohibits individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition, however no law requires courts to notify these domestic abusers that they are prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition under state or federal law.1 The same law also requires courts to transmit records of certain domestic violence offenses to the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (Department) for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).2

Massachusetts law also prohibits individuals who are currently subject to a permanent or temporary protection order protecting an adult or minor family or household member of the applicant from abuse from purchasing or possessing firearms.3  The term “family or household members” includes persons who:

  • Are or were married to one another;
  • Are or were residing together in the same household;
  • Are or were related by blood or marriage;
  • Have a child in common regardless of whether they have ever married or lived together; or
  • Are or have been in a substantive dating or engagement relationship, which shall be adjudged by consideration of the following factors:

– The length of time of the relationship;

– The type of relationship;

– The frequency of interaction between the parties; and

– If the relationship has been terminated by either person, the length of time elapsed since the termination of the relationship.4

Massachusetts law requires a court that is issuing a temporary or emergency protection order (an order that a court can issue immediately upon the filing of a complaint by a family or household member who seeks protection from abuse) to order the immediate suspension and surrender of any license to carry firearms or firearms identification card which the defendant may hold and order the defendant to surrender all firearms and ammunition which he or she possesses to the appropriate law enforcement official.5 However, this requirement only applies if the plaintiff demonstrates a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse.6

Upon issuing a suspension or surrender order, the court must report the defendant’s identifying information to the Department for inclusion in NICS.7 Law enforcement officials who are serving such orders must immediately take possession of all such firearms, ammunition, licenses, and identification cards.8

Massachusetts law requires any law enforcement officer who has reason to believe that a family or household member has been abused or is in danger of being abused to use all reasonable means to prevent further abuse. 9  Massachusetts law does not, however, specifically authorize or require the law enforcement officer to remove firearms or ammunition in this situation.

Notes
  1. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129B(1)(ii)(f); see also Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B; 131; ch. 265 § 13N. ⤴︎
  2. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265 § 13N; see also Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3D. ⤴︎
  3. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129B(1)(vii); see also Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(d)(vi) (limiting issuance of a license to carry a firearm in the same manner); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3 (authorizing issuance of a protection order against an adult or minor family or household member). ⤴︎
  4. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 1. ⤴︎
  5. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3B. ⤴︎
  6. Id. ⤴︎
  7. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3D. ⤴︎
  8. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3B. ⤴︎
  9. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 6. ⤴︎