Oh, You Want a Gun? Not in My Town, Pal

April 19, 2015

The fight for stricter firearm regulation is in full force amidst several recent fatal shootings in the United States. On one side, there are anti-gun advocates, pushing congress to enact tighter gun laws that limit access to firearms. On the other, the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that gun ownership is one of the most basic of constitutional rights and may not be limited.

In Massachusetts, access to firearms is regulated by the issuance of a firearms license. The “Class A License to Carry” license is the most expansive. The holder of this license is entitled to purchase any firearm on the Attorney General’s approved firearm list, including handguns and rifles. A holder of a Class A license must be 21 years of age or older with no felony convictions or restraining orders. The least expansive is the Firearms Identification Card. This card entitles the holder to purchase small capacity rifles, shotguns, and mace and is available to those who are 18 years of age or older.

In order to obtain a Class A License to Carry, an applicant must complete an NRA approved handgun safety course. The course consists of approximately 5 hours of classroom time, followed by live fire at a shooting range. Upon completion of the course, the applicant may apply for a permit at their local police department. Upon receipt of an application, the chief of police will run a federal and state background check in order to determine whether there are active felony charges or restraining orders. If none are present, the chief will make a determination regarding the applicant’s fitness to possess a Class A License to Carry.

While rules and guidelines steer the application process, many feel that police chiefs are approving or denying applications with a lack of consistency. Specifically, they complain that the police chief is given too much discretion in deciding whether to allow or deny an application for a Class A License to Carry. Massachusetts’s gun activists argue that if the chief of police in a particular town shares views with anti-gun activists, he or she will be less likely to issue a Class A license.

The approval or a denial of an application should be more consistent. Whether police chiefs are denying more applications than approving or vice versa, is not the focus of this blog post. This post aims to focus on how police chief discretion must be controlled. It is true, under the law today, a novice in firearms can obtain an unrestricted Class A License to Carry in Gloucester, but a master marksman will get denied in Boston. One’s ability to obtain a license certainly should not depend on its geographic location. The focus should really be on whether the individual submitting each application should be granted the privilege of carrying a firearm.

In order to move away from police chief discretion, the state should institute a rubric that police chiefs must strictly follow when processing an application. Whether the rubric’s substance allowed for more or fewer Class A Licenses should be left up to the legislature. One thing is clear, though. We should move away from the system currently in place.

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Michael D. Kelly has a diverse background that provides a breadth of legal knowledge that he draws upon in serving his clients. Kelly compiled an excellent academic record during his three years at New England Law in Boston.