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Mass. laws require class, background check

What kinds of firearms are allowed in Massachusetts, and what does it take to get them?

A state ban on assault weapons was enacted in 1998, meant to extend a 1994 federal ban that was written to expire in 2004.

The federal ban prohibited civilians from purchasing a list of “assault rifles,” as well as other large-capacity firearms manufactured before it took effect in 1994. Weapons made after 1994 were limited to a 10-round capacity.

Massachusetts still enforces a 10-round limit on post-1994 rifles and handguns, and a 5-round limit on shotguns sold in the state, though a Class-A license to carry allows the holder to purchase and keep pre-1994 high capacity weapons and magazines.

A class-A license to carry is the least restrictive, and also allows the holder to carry a loaded, concealed handgun.

A class-B license allows holders to carry an openly displayed handgun, and purchase any non large-capacity firearm allowed in the state.

A firearms identification card allows the holder to purchase non large-capacity rifles and shotguns, as well as pepper spray and Mace.

To obtain a firearms license, applicants must start at their local police departments. Firearms licensing officers go through the paperwork and background checks, and the chief of police must sign off on all approvals or denials.

Firearms license applicants throughout the state have to go through a rigorous background check before being allowed to own a gun.

“The process now takes about six weeks,” said officer Megan Gilbert, firearms licensing officer for Greenfield Police.

State laws spell out a number of reasons an applicant must be denied a firearms license.

Anyone convicted of a violent crime or violation of gun laws in the U.S. at any point in his or her life is ineligible for a firearms license or permit. Those who have been institutionalized for mental illness must get an affidavit from a physician stating that they are not a danger before being approved for a firearm.

In the case of some crimes, said Gilbert, people may apply for a firearms identification card five years after their probation or jail sentence is completed, but are permanently barred from holding a Class A or Class B license.

Those who have been treated or imprisoned for drug addiction or habitual drunkenness are not allowed to receive a license for five years, and even then must present a doctor’s affidavit stating that they are cured, according to state law.

In addition to the disqualifying situations spelled out in state law, local police can exercise their discretion in handing out permits.

“There are suitability issues in addition to the statutory reasons for declining an application,” said Gilbert.

If someone is known by police to have a history of violence, they can be denied even if they’ve never been convicted of a violent crime, said Gilbert. She said people known to have serious alcohol or drug issues can also be red-flagged.

They do, however, have the right to appeal a suitability denial at the state level.

Anyone who is the subject of an active restraining order is also not allowed to possess any firearms.

“If someone gets a restraining order issued on them, we take their firearms and license when we serve the order,” said Gilbert.

If a license is suspended or revoked for a qualifying conviction, a letter is sent to the holder asking him or her to surrender their license and weapons to police.

Often, said Gilbert, someone who has their right to own a firearm takes away will transfer their weapons to a friend or family member who holds a valid license.

Gilbert has been the department’s licensing officer for six months, and said there are about 30 license applications per month.

“They’re mostly renewals,” she said. Licenses are valid for six years, and renewals face the same background checks as first-time applicants.

First-timers also have to go through basic gun safety or hunting safety classes, and submit their fingerprints to a state database. Safety classes must be re-taken if state requirements change enough from the date of completion, said Gilbert.

Greenfield’s 17,000 residents have 1,105 active class-A licenses, and 134 active FID cards, according to a state Firearms Records Bureau report issued Dec. 3.

Ammunition is less restricted in Massachusetts, and legal rounds, including expanding hollow-point bullets, can be purchased by anyone 18 and up with valid firearms and driver’s licenses. Some types of ammunition, like armor-piercing rounds, remain illegal for civilians to possess.

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