Federal law establishes a baseline national standard regarding individuals’ eligibility to acquire and possess firearms. Under federal law, people are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony or some domestic violence misdemeanors, or if they are subject to certain court orders related to domestic violence or a serious mental condition. However, federal law merely provides a floor, and has notable gaps that allow individuals who have demonstrated significant risk factors for violence or self-harm to legally acquire and possess guns.
Massachusetts’ state law firearm prohibitions are generally much broader than federal law and cover many of these gaps.
Massachusetts generally requires any person who wishes to purchase or possess a firearm to obtain a Firearm Identification Card or a License to Carry, pursuant to a background check.1 A Firearms Identification Card (“FID”) generally authorizes a person to purchase, possess, and transport non-large-capacity rifles, shotguns, and ammunition, while a License to Carry (“LTC”) generally authorizes a person to purchase, possess, transport, and carry large- and non-large-capacity handguns, rifles, shotguns, and feeding devices, as well as ammunition. (See the Licensing in Massachusetts section for additional information about these licenses).
Massachusetts generally restricts people from receiving an FID card or License to Carry if they:2
- Have been convicted of (or adjudicated as a youthful offender or delinquent child for the commission of) a:
- Misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for more than two years;
- Misdemeanor crime of domestic violence as defined in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(33);
- Violent crime as defined by Massachusetts law3;
- Violation of any law regulating the use, possession, ownership, transfer, purchase, sale, lease, rental, receipt or transportation of weapons or ammunition for which a term of imprisonment may be imposed; or
- Violation of any law regulating the use, possession or sale of controlled substances.
- Are or have been committed to a hospital or institution for mental illness, alcohol or substance abuse;
- Are or have been under the appointment of a guardian or conservator on the grounds that he or she lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his or her affairs;
- Are an alien who does not maintain lawful permanent residency;
- Are currently subject to certain court protection orders, including orders related to domestic violence or abuse, (issued pursuant to chapter 209A of Massachusetts General Laws, or a similar order issued by another jurisdiction) “harassment prevention orders” issued to prevent sexual assault, stalking, and other forms of violence or abuse outside the context of a domestic relationship (issued pursuant to chapter 258E or a similar order issued by another jurisdiction), and Extreme Risk Protection Orders (issued pursuant to sections 131R through 131X or a similar order issued by another jurisdiction);4
- Have been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces of the United States;
- Are a fugitive from justice;
- Have renounced their United States citizenship; or
- Are currently the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant in any state or federal jurisdiction.5
Massachusetts law also imposes minimum age qualifications to receive these firearm licenses. See the Minimum Age in Massachusetts section for more information about these age requirements.
For information about Massachusetts laws authorizing law enforcement agencies to seek the denial or suspension of a FID Card or LTC to a person found to pose a risk to public safety, see the Licensing in Massachusetts section. For information on the background check process used to enforce Massachusetts’ firearm prohibitions, see the Universal Background Checks section.
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- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129C.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B; 131(d).
- Under Massachusetts law, “Violent crime” generally means any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year (or any act of juvenile delinquency involving the use or possession of a deadly weapon that would be punishable by imprisonment for such term if committed by an adult), that: (i) has as an element the use, attempted use or threatened use of physical force or a deadly weapon against the person of another; (ii) is burglary, extortion, arson or kidnapping; (iii) involves the use of explosives; or (iv) otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious risk of physical injury to another.” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 121.
- See Mass. Ann. Laws ch. 140, § 131(d)(vi). Massachusetts added prohibitions restricting firearm access by people subject to temporary or permanent harassment prevention orders in 2022, through 2021 MA HB 5163, Section 8.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B, 131, 131F; ch. 123 § 35.