Massachusetts generally prohibits licensed firearms dealers from transferring a handgun that does not meet detailed consumer 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 To be approved, these handguns must 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.
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- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (clauses Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth and Twenty-first).
- 501 Mass. Code Regs. 7.02.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-First); 501 Mass. Code Regs. 7.02.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Eighteenth).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Nineteenth).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Twentieth).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Twenty-First).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123.
- 501 Mass. Code Regs. 7.06(1).
- 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).