Massachusetts Gun Licensing Law Upheld

On November 2, the Massachusetts Gun Licensing law, Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 140, § 131, as applied in Boston and Brookline was upheld by the Federal First Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Gould, et al. v. Morgan, et al.

The firearm laws in those towns (like New Bedford) required applicants to show they had a good reason to fear for their safety in order to obtain a permit to carry firearms in public.

The requirement did not apply to licenses to have a firearm for self-defense in the home, but just to the license to carry in public. The police chiefs in those cities required that the applicant “…must identify a specific need, that is, a need above and beyond a generalized desire to be safe…that they had good particular reasons to fear physical harm as opposed to the fear of the general public.” The Plaintiffs who had been denied unrestricted licenses to carry firearms in public argued that there could be no restriction on their right to carry in public because it was a violation of their “core Second Amendment right.” The Court held that the regulations did not illegally infringe on their Second Amendment right to bear arms because it did not restrict firearm use inside the home.

The Court disagreed and explained:
“We make explicit today what was implicit in [Hightower v. City of Bos., 693 F.3d 61, 65 (1st Cir. 2012)]: that the core Second Amendment right is limited to self-defense in the home. …
Many constitutional rights are virtually unfettered inside the home but become subject to reasonable regulation outside the home. …
(W]e decide today that intermediate scrutiny supplies the appropriate test. …
The legislative purpose behind the statute is twofold: to promote public safety and to prevent crime. …
It cannot be gainsaid that Massachusetts has compelling governmental interests in both public safety and crime prevention.
Here, the fit between the asserted governmental interests and the means chosen to advance them is close enough to pass intermediate scrutiny. …
The challenged regime does not infringe at all on the core Second Amendment right of a citizen to keep arms in his home for the purpose of self-defense. Outside the home, the regime arguably does burden a citizen’s non-core Second Amendment right. … But in allocating this burden, the Massachusetts legislature was cognizant that firearms can present a threat to public safety. …

The Court was persuaded “… that the defendants have forged a substantial link between the restrictions imposed on the public carriage of firearms and the indisputable governmental interests in public safety and crime prevention. Massachusetts consistently has one of the lowest rates of gun-related deaths in the nation, and the Commonwealth attributes this salubrious state of affairs to its comprehensive firearms licensing regime. …
[T]he plaintiffs present a profusion of countervailing studies and articles. …
We conclude that this case falls into an area in which it is the legislature’s prerogative — not ours — to weigh the evidence, choose among conflicting inferences, and make the necessary policy judgments. …
Consequently, we hold that the Massachusetts firearms licensing statute, as implemented by the Boston and Brookline policies, passes muster under the Second Amendment.”

My guess is that this case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court due to the fact that this is a hotly contested issue and also because the plaintiffs who lost know that the Supreme Court has a solid conservative majority.

It will be very interesting to see what happens on this issue.

If you have any questions about gun licenses, applications or renewals, as always, give us a call.

Bob Feingold
Heather Bonnet-Hébert

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