See our Gun Dealers policy summary for a comprehensive discussion of this issue.
Federal law requires firearms dealers to obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), although resource limitations prevent the ATF from properly overseeing all its licensees.
Massachusetts law requires any person who sells, rents, or leases a firearm to possess a Massachusetts firearms dealer license.1 This requirement does not apply to an unlicensed Massachusetts resident who transfers “not more than four” firearms in any one calendar year, so long as both the buyer and the seller have the proper cards, permits or licenses to possess or purchase firearms, and the seller reports the sale to the state.2
A city or town police department (“licensing authority”) may, after an investigation into the criminal history of the applicant, grant a firearms dealer license to any person except:
- An alien;
- A minor (under 18 years of age) (note, however, that the licensing authority requests an applicant’s Federal Firearms License (FFL) during the background investigation of an applicant for a state license, and federal law requires that an applicant for a FFL be at least 21 years of age);
- A person who has been adjudicated a “youthful offender,” including those who have not received an adult sentence; or
- A person who has been convicted of a felony, or of the unlawful use, possession or sale of narcotic or harmful drugs.3
Every license must specify the street and number of the building where the business will be located.4 A firearms dealer’s business must not be located in a residence or dwelling and must be in the location identified on the license.5 The licensing authority is required to submit one copy of an applicant’s fingerprints to the department of state police, who must, within a reasonable period of time, advise the licensing authority in writing of any criminal record of the applicant.6 The licensing authority must also send a copy of the application to the commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services.7
A law enacted in 2014 requires firearms dealers to conduct background checks of employees prior to hiring them. Dealers must search the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Information Services database for criminal offender information to determine the employee’s suitability to have direct and unmonitored contact with firearms. The law also requires dealers to conduct background checks of existing employees by July 1, 2015.8
Under federal law, federally licensed firearms dealers must conduct background checks on prospective purchasers each time the dealer transfers a firearm. Massachusetts also requires that dealers verify the validity of a potential transferee’s license prior to transferring a firearm. For further information, see the Massachusetts Background Checks section.
The licensing authority is required to conduct, and a dealer must submit to, one mandatory records and inventory inspection per year and a dealer’s records must be open to inspection by law enforcement “at all times.”9
A firearms dealer must not display any firearm in any outer window or in any place where it can be readily seen from the outside.10
For recordkeeping requirements, see the Retention of Sales / Background Checks Records section.
Any dealer who loses a firearm or has a firearm stolen must report the loss or theft “forthwith” to the licensing authority and the executive director of the criminal history systems board.11 The report must include a complete description of the weapon, including the make, model, serial number, caliber and whether such weapon is a “large capacity weapon.” (“Large capacity” includes assault weapons and most firearms capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition or more than five shotgun shells (either directly, or via a large capacity feeding device)).12
Massachusetts law prohibits any person from selling or furnishing a rifle, shotgun, machine gun or ammunition to any person under age 18 or selling or furnishing a handgun or large capacity rifle or shotgun or ammunition for those firearms to anyone under age 21.13
Any person selling firearm ammunition in Massachusetts must possess a license to do so.14 This license—distinct from a firearms dealer license—is subject to the same basic conditions as the dealer license.15 Once issued, both license types expire three years from the date of issuance.16
For further information on firearm-related sales restrictions for safety purposes, please see the Design Safety Standards section.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 122, 128.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 128A. It also excludes an unlicensed person who transfers a firearm to a state or federally licensed dealer or to a historical society, museum or institutional collection that is open to the public. Id.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 122.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 122, 123 (First, Fifteenth).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 122.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 6, §§ 172, 172L; Act of Aug. 13, 2014, Mass. Pub. L. No. 284-2014, Section 99.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Second).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Fourth).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 123 (Seventeenth).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 121, 129B(6).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 130.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 122B.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 124.