Massachusetts allows a person to carry a firearm in public if the person has the appropriate license.1
A License to Carry generally entitles a person to carry handguns and other firearms in public spaces.2 A licensing authority may impose further restrictions it deems proper on the licensee regarding the possession or use of large capacity rifles or shotguns.3 Subject to certain exceptions for hunting purposes, Massachusetts generally prohibits 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.4 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.5
Prior to June 2022, Massachusetts law provided local law enforcement with broad discretion to issue or deny Licenses to Carry. However, the US Supreme Court’s June 23, 2022, decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association (“NYSRPA”) v. Bruen has been interpreted as invalidating these specific aspects of Massachusetts’s public carry licensing laws. Massachusetts passed legislation to update its licensing standards accordingly in 2022.6
Standard for Issuing Licenses to Carry Firearms
Under current Massachusetts law, people may apply to local law enforcement agencies, as well as the state police, for licenses to carry. These licensing authorities are directed to issue or renew a license to carry to a qualified applicant if it appears that the applicant is not a “prohibited person” (who is legally disqualified from obtaining a license to carry firearms based on criminal history, age under 21, and is not otherwise determined to be unsuitable to be issued a license.7 For an initial application for a license to carry, the licensing authority is required to conduct a personal interview with the applicant.8 The licensing authority generally has 40 days from the date an application is submitted to approve or deny the application.9
An applicant must generally reside or have a place of business within the jurisdiction of the licensing authority,10 although the colonel of state police may issue a temporary license to carry firearms to a nonresident of Massachusetts or any person not falling within the jurisdiction of a local licensing authority for purposes of firearms competition.11
People are generally “prohibited” and categorically disqualified from obtaining licenses to carry if they:12
- Are under 21 years old at the time of the application;
- Have been convicted (or adjudicated as a juvenile) of crimes including any felony, misdemeanor punishable by more than two years, misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, violent crime (as defined), a violation of any criminal law regulating weapons or ammunition for which the penalty may include imprisonment, or a violation of laws governing controlled substances;
- Are subject to a temporary or emergency restraining order, or order of protection, including any domestic violence restraining order;
- Have been committed to a hospital or institution for mental illness, alcohol, or substance abuse or found to be a person with an alcohol use or substance use disorder (subject to exceptions for those who petition to restore firearm access);
- Are subject to a probate court order 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;
- Are a person without U.S. citizenship who does not maintain lawful permanent residency;
- Are currently subject to an outstanding arrest warrant in any state or federal jurisdiction or a fugitive from justice;
- Have been discharged from the US Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
- Have renounced US citizenship.13
In addition to these categorical disqualifications, licensing authorities must also deny or revoke licenses to carry upon making a determination that a person is unsuitable. A determination of unsuitability must be based on “reliable, articulable, and credible information that the applicant or licensee has exhibited or engaged in behavior that suggests that, if issued a license, the applicant or licensee may create a risk to public safety or a risk of danger to self or others.”14 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 suitable to possess the license.15 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.16
Applicants whose licenses have been revoked or suspended must surrender their license to the licensing authority, and must surrender their firearms.17 Individuals who possess firearms without the proper card or license for the firearm possessed may face fines and prison time.18
See the Licensing in Massachusetts page for further information.
Firearm Safety Training
Persons applying for a license to carry and who were not in possession of an FID or either license type prior to June 1, 1998 must submit a basic firearms safety certificate (“BFSC”) to the licensing authority.19 No application for the issuance of a license to carry will be accepted or processed by the licensing authority without this certificate.20 To obtain a BFSC, an applicant must successfully complete a basic firearms safety course.21
Duration & Renewal
Once issued, a Massachusetts license to carry firearms is valid for up to six years from the date of issue.22
Disclosure or Use of Information
Massachusetts does not allow the names and addresses of license holders to be made public.23 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.24
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…”25
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.26
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, § 10.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131E.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(a), (b).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, § 12D.
- Id. For information on the carrying of firearms for hunting, see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 131, §§ 11, 14, 70.
- See 2022 MA HB 5163.
- See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(d)(as amended by 2022 MA HB 5163).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(e).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(d).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131F.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131 (defining “prohibited person”).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(d).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(d)(as amended by 2022 MA HB 5163).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(f).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129D, 131(f).
- See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 269, § 10.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131P(a).
- 515 Mass. Code Regs. 3.01 et seq.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(i).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 66, § 10B.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, § 7 (Twenty-sixth)(j).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, § 168B. An amendment effective Nov 4, 2012 will transfer this responsibility to the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131G.