Massachusetts: State Firearms Laws

(As of May 1995)

PLEASE NOTE: In addition to state laws, the purchase, sale and (in certain circumstances) the possession and interstate transportation of firearms is regulated by the Gun Control Act of 1968 as amended by the Firearm Owners' Protection Act. Also, cities and localities may have their own firearms ordinances in addition to federal and state laws. Details may be obtained by contacting local law enforcement authorities, and by consulting the State Laws and Published Ordinances -- Firearms, available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. 20402.

Quick Reference Chart

                          Rifles and
                          Shotguns      Handguns
Permit to Purchase        FID Required    Yes 
Registration of Firearm*     No           No 
Licensing of Owner           Yes          Yes 
Permit to Carry           FID Required    Yes

*Police recordation made of transfers.

State Constitutional Provision

"The people have a right to keep and bear arms for the common defense. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature, and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority, and be governed by it." Declaration of Rights, Article 17.


A Firearm Identification card (FID) or a license to carry is required to own or possess a handgun, rifle, shotgun or ammunition. An investigation of the applicant by the local chief of police or his delegate is required before the issuance of an FID. There is a $2.00 fee and the FID is valid until revoked or suspended.

An applicant is entitled to an FID unless he has been convicted of a felony within the last five years, or has been confined or treated for drug addiction or habitual drunkenness within the last five years, or has been confined to any hospital or institution for mental illness unless he has an affidavit from a physician stating that he is not disabled in a manner which should prevent his possessing a handgun, rifle or shotgun. All aliens and minors under the age of 15 are prohibited from obtaining a card; but a minor between the ages of 15 and 18 may obtain an FID with the written permission of his parent or guardian.

The licensing authority "may not prescribe any other condition" for the issuance of an FID. Notice of approval or denial must be given to the applicant within 30 days. If denied, the applicant may appeal to the District Court for review.

Any person who inherits a rifle, shotgun, or handgun is required to obtain an FID or license to carry within 180 days if he intends to retain possession of the firearm.

The holder of an FID must notify, in writing, the issuing authority and the Commissioner of Public Safety of any change in his address within thirty days of such change.

A new resident moving into the state who owns firearms has 60 days in which to obtain an FID or a license to carry to make the possession legal in Massachusetts. A person may possess but not carry during this 60 day period.

An alien may obtain an "alien permit to possess" from the state Commissioner of Public Safety which will allow him to possess a rifle or shotgun. These permit cards are valid for one year and are issued only to aliens with a U.S. immigration card.

Exemptions from the FID and licensing requirements are provided for:

  1. The temporary holding or firing of a handgun under the supervision of a person with a license to carry, or the holding or firing of a rifle or shotgun under the supervision of a person with an FID or "where such holding or firing is for a lawful purpose."
  2. The use of a rifle or shotgun for hunting or target shooting by a minor under the age of 15, provided he is under the immediate supervision of a person holding an FID or a license to carry.
  3. Possession by chartered veterans organizations and possession by their members when on ceremonial duties.
  4. Possession by museums and institutional collections open to the public, provided such firearms are unloaded and secured.
  5. Possession by federally-licensed manufacturers and dealers and their employees when necessary for manufacture, display, storage or testing.


To purchase a rifle, shotgun or ammunition, the buyer must have a license to carry, or an FID, or proof of exempt status (police, military, etc.) and be 18 years of age or older.

To purchase a handgun, the buyer must have (a) a license to carry, or (b) a permit to purchase and an FID, or (c) a permit to purchase and proof of exempt status.

A permit to purchase a handgun is obtained from the Commissioner of Public Safety or the the local chief of police who has discretion to issue or deny the permit. The permit costs $2.00 and is valid for 10 days. No permit may be issued to a person under the age of 18. The permit is valid for the purchase of one handgun.

It is a crime to sell, give away, loan or otherwise transfer any rifle, shotgun, handgun or ammunition to anyone who is not properly licensed or otherwise authorized to possess or receive such firearm or ammunition.

A private individual is permitted to sell not more than four firearms (rifles, shotguns, or handguns) per year unless sold directly to a licensed gun dealer. He must be properly licensed to possess these firearms and the purchaser must be properly licensed to buy them. The seller must file a report of the sale with the Commissioner of Public Safety within seven days of the sale. This report must be on the proper forms provided by the Commissioner and give all required details regarding the seller, purchaser and the firearm being transferred, including the caliber, make and serial number and the FID, license or permit number of the buyer.


An FID alone does not entitle its holder to carry a handgun outside one's residence or place of business.

Except while hunting or at a shooting gallery, a person may not carry a loaded rifle or shotgun on any public way.

A license is required to carry a handgun. Application forms must be given. Application must be made to the chief of police, who has discretion, after an investigation, to issue or deny the license. Fingerprints, photographs and the payment of a $20 fee are required. The license is valid for five years, but may be revoked, "for cause ... at the will of the licensing authority."

The license to carry allows the holder to purchase, possess or carry an unlimited number of handguns.

A license may be issued to an applicant who satisfies the requirements for obtaining an FID, who appears to the chief of police to be a "suitable person to be so licensed," and who has "good reason to fear injury to his person or property." In addition, the applicant must never have been convicted of a felony, must be 21 years of age or 18 and have his parent's permission, and be a U.S. citizen. A license also may be issued for "any other proper purpose, including the carrying of firearms for use in target practice only."

An applicant must be notified of an approval or denial with 40 days of submitting an application. In the event a license is denied, revoked, or no reply has been given within 40 days of submitting an application, the aggrieved may within 45 days file a petition for review in the district court.

Any license holder who moves his residence to another jurisdiction within the state must within 30 days notify the chief of police who issued the license, the chief of police in the jurisdiction where he is moving and the state Commissioner of Public Safety. Failure to provide such change of address is unlawful and may void the license.

It is unlawful for any person licensed to carry a handgun to leave the firearm in a vehicle unattended.

Transportation in a Vehicle

A resident may transport a rifle or shotgun provided it is unloaded and he has an FID.

A resident may transport a handgun only if he has a license to carry.


A non-resident may possess a rifle or shotgun in Massachusetts:
  1. While hunting and in possession of a valid hunting license.
  2. While on a firing or shooting range.
  3. While traveling in or through Massachusetts if the rifle or shotgun is unloaded and enclosed in a case.
  4. While at a firearms show organized by a "regularly existing gun collector's club or association."
  5. If he has a license or permit to possess any firearm in his home state.
To transport or possess a handgun, a non-resident must obtain a temporary license to carry, good for one year, from the Commissioner of Public Safety, 1010 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215. A temporary license may be issued to a non-resident or alien or person not falling within the jurisdiction of a local licensing authority.

A non-resident with a license to carry a handgun issued by his home state (Provided, that the home state has the same requirements as Massachusetts for obtaining a license to carry.) may carry a pistol or revolver in Massachusetts for the purpose of taking part in a competition or exhibition of handguns, or for hunting provided he has a valid hunting license issued by Massachusetts or the state of his destination.

Antiques and Replicas

An antique firearm is defined as any handgun, rifle or shotgun manufactured in or before 1898, or any replica thereof which is not designed for firing fixed ammunition or which uses fixed ammunition no longer manufactured in the United States and no longer readily available commercially.

An FID card is not required to possess antique and replica firearms in the home or place of business. A license to carry is required when antique and replica handguns are being carried outside the home or place of business. Law Enforcement officials indicate, however, that a license to carry is also required to carry antique replica rifles and shotguns outside the home or place of business.

Machine Guns

A machine gun "is a weapon of any description ... from which a number of shots or bullets may be rapidly or automatically discharged by one continuous activation of the trigger, and includes a submachine gun."

It is unlawful to possess a machine gun without a license. Application is made to the local chief of police who, in his discretion, may issue a license to any applicant "who is a suitable person to be so licensed" and is a firearm instructor certified by the criminal justice training council for instructing police personnel or is a bona fide collector of firearms. A license to carry is a prerequisite.

Miscellaneous Provisions

Although persons in the military and other peace officers are exempt from the above requirements, the exemption is applicable only when they are performing their official duties or when duly authorized to possess weapons. It is not applicable for any private or sporting use of such rifles, shotguns, or handguns.

Airguns and BB guns are regulated by the above provisions.

Massachusetts has a mandatory sentence of one year's imprisonment for anyone convicted of illegally possessing a firearm loaded or unloaded. One's residence or place of business is exempt from the mandatory penalty.

It is unlawful to remove, deface or alter in any manner the serial or identification number of a handgun, or knowingly to receive such a handgun. Possession of a handgun with an altered or defaced number creates a legal presumption that the possessor committed the offense.

Discharge of any firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling is prohibited, except with the consent of the owner, in defense of life and property, or at licensed shooting galleries.

In the event of theft, loss or recovery of any firearm, the owner is required to notify the Commissioner and the issuing authority.

Any person in possession of any firearm is required to exhibit his FID or license to carry or other proof of lawful possession to a law enforcement officer upon demand. If the person fails to display a license, he may be required to surrender his firearm, although he may recover it if he produces the license within 30 days.

Additional Provisions for Boston

In Boston under a vague law it is unlawful to possess, display, transfer, or receive any shotgun with a capacity exceeding 6 rounds; a semi-automatic rifle with a magazine exceeding 10 rounds; any SKS, AK47, Uzi, AR-15, Steyr AUG, FN-FAL, and FN-FNC rifle; any semi-automatic pistol which is a modification of a proscribed rifle or shotgun; and any magazine or belt which holds more than 10 rounds. An ``assault weapons roster board'' may add additional firearms to the list of so-called ``assault weapons.'' For owners to continue possession of such firearms a license/registration must be obtained from the Boston Police Commissioner within 90 days of the effective date of the law (12/9/89) or addition of a firearm to a roster of ``assault weapons.'' Otherwise a license/registration cannot be obtained.

The provision shall not apply to possession by nonresidents of Boston at a sporting or shooting club by one with a Massachusetts license to carry a pistol, or while taking part in competition or at a collectors' exhibit or meeting or traveling to or from such event or while in transit through Boston for the purpose of hunting by licensed hunters, provided that in all cases the ``assault weapon'' is unloaded and packaged and the person has a Massachusetts firearm identification card or has a license or permit to carry or possess firearms issued by another state.

A person must be 21 to obtain a license to carry or possess any firearms with a barrel under 16 inches or a shotgun with a barrel under 18 inches. It is unlawful to sell or transfer such firearm to a person under 21 or for a person under 21 to sell or transfer such firearm. This act shall not apply to nonresidents of the city; nonresidents of Massachusetts with a nonresident Massachusetts carrying license if the firearm is loaded and encased; new residents or persons released from active duty with the armed forces for a period of 60 days.

Citation: Massachusetts Statues relating to firearms are: Part 1, Chapter 140, Sections 121 to 131 I; Part II, Chapter 269, Sections 10 to 12 E.

Note: In this summary, the term "firearm" has been used in its general sense, i.e., any rifle, shotgun or handgun. However, readers of the Massachusetts law should be aware that the term "firearm," when it appears in the text of the statutes, has a special meaning, being defined as any pistol, revolver or other firearm with a barrel of less than 16 inches or a shotgun with a barrel length of less than 18 inches.

Caution: State firearms laws are subject to frequent change. The above summary is not to be considered as legal advice or restatement of law. To determine the applicability of these laws to specific situations which you may encounter, you are strongly urged to consult a local attorney.

                  Compiled by:
        NRA Institute for Legislative Action
              11250 Waples Mill Road
              Fairfax, Virginia 22030

   (c)  1995, NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

NS 3N1001                             Rev. 5/95