Types of Licenses
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 Each entitles the holder to different privileges, described below.
An FID card enables the holder to purchase or possess rifles and shotguns that are not considered “large capacity” weapons, and feeding devices for long guns that are not “large capacity” weapons.2 (“Large capacity weapon” 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).3
A license to carry (“LTC”) allows the holder to purchase, rent, lease, borrow, possess and carry all types of lawful firearms, including both large and non-large capacity handguns, rifles, shotguns, and feeding devices and ammunition for these firearms.4 For further information on licenses to carry, please see the Concealed Weapons Permitting section.
Any person residing or having a place of business within the jurisdiction of a city or town police department (“licensing authority”), or any person residing in an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction located within a city or town, may submit to the local licensing authority an application for a FID or a license to carry.5 A temporary license to carry firearms may also be issued by the colonel of state police to a nonresident of Massachusetts or to any person not falling within the jurisdiction of a local licensing authority “for purposes of firearms competition and subject to such terms and conditions as said colonel may deem proper.”6
State law requires applicants to pass a background check to verify that they are eligible to receive a FID or License to Carry, as described below. Massachusetts also generally requires all first time applicants for FID Cards and Licenses to Carry to complete a certified firearms safety course or qualifying hunter education course and submit a certificate verifying that they completed the course with their application for an FID or LTC.7
Firearm Identification Cards (FID)
However, a law enacted in 2014 law gives the licensing authority authority to petition a court to deny a FID if the applicant is determined to be “unsuitable” based on evidence that there exists: (i) reliable, articulable, and credible information that the applicant has exhibited or engaged in behavior to suggest the applicant could potentially create a risk to public safety; or (ii) existing factors that suggest that the applicant could potentially create a risk to public safety.9 If the licensing authority believes the applicant is unsuitable, it may file a petition with a court to deny the issuance or renewal of, or suspend or revoke, an FID Card. Upon the filing of a petition to deny the issuance or renewal of a FID, the court shall hold a hearing within 90 days to determine whether the applicant is unsuitable. The FID will not be issued or renewed while a petition is pending with the court.
Upon the filing of a petition to revoke or suspend a FID, the court shall determine within 15 days whether there is sufficient evidence to support a finding that the applicant is unsuitable. The FID will be suspended or revoked while the court’s determination is pending. If the court determines that sufficient evidence of unsuitability exists, within 75 days, the court shall hold a hearing to make a final determination of whether the applicant is unsuitable.
The licensing authority must show by a preponderance of the evidence that reliable, articulable and credible evidence exists that the applicant has behaved in a way to suggest that they could potentially create a risk to public safety. The court may hear evidence of the existence of other factors that suggest the same. If the court fails to make a suitability determination within the allowable time frames, the court must enter judgment that the applicant is suitable.10
Licenses to Carry (LTC)
A license to carry may be issued if the applicant is not legally ineligible under the standards described in the Firearm Prohibitions in Massachusetts section, is not found unsuitable, and has good reason to fear injury to themselves or their property, or for any other reason including carrying of firearms for use in sport or target practice only.11 For more about license to carry standards, see the Concealed Weapon Permitting section.
License Application Process
In the application process for either a FID or a license to carry, the licensing authority must forward one copy of the application and one copy of the applicant’s fingerprints to the colonel of state police (“colonel”) who must, within 30 days, advise the licensing authority, in writing, of any disqualifying criminal record, and whether there is reason to believe that the applicant is otherwise disqualified from possessing a FID or license to carry.12 The colonel shall utilize files maintained by the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Probation “and statewide and nationwide criminal justice, warrant and protection order information systems and files including, but not limited to,” the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”).13 The licensing authority has 40 days from the date an application is submitted to approve or deny the application for a FID or license to carry.14
In the case of a license to carry:
“The licensing authority may also make inquiries concerning the applicant to: (i) the commissioner of the department of criminal justice information services relative to any disqualifying condition and records of purchases, sales, rentals, leases and transfers of weapons or ammunition concerning the applicant; (ii) the commissioner of probation relative to any record contained within the department of probation or the statewide domestic violence record keeping system concerning the applicant; and (iii) the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health relative to whether the applicant is a suitable person to possess firearms or is not a suitable person to possess firearms. The director or commissioner to whom the licensing authority makes such inquiry shall provide prompt and full cooperation for that purpose in any investigation of the applicant.”15
Massachusetts law also prohibits any person from using a FID or a license to carry for the purpose of purchasing a firearm for the unlawful use of another, or for resale of a firearm, or giving a firearm to, an unlicensed person.15
A procedure to relinquish a person’s firearm license and weapons after they become legally disqualified from keeping firearms is detailed in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129D.
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- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B; 129C; 131, 131F. Though Massachusetts law (ch. 140, sections 131A and 131E) references a permit to purchase that is necessary for someone who holds an FID but not an LTC to to purchase a handgun, the Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau states that, as of September 2019, no PTPs have ever been issued in the state.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B(6), 131E.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 121.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131E.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B, 131.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131F.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131P.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B(1), 131(d), 131F.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129B(1 1/2).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131.
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B(2), 131(e).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B(2), (3), 131(e).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131E(b).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 129B(9).
- Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131(i).