Massachusetts Law on Improper Storage of a Firearm and the Second Amendment

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently decided a case involving a challenge to the constitutionality of a statute that criminalizes the Improper Storage of a Firearm.

G.L. c. 140, section 131L(a), which criminalizes the improper storage of a firearm that is not within the immediate control of the owner. By law, a firearm that is not within the immediate control of its owner must either be kept in a locked container equipped with a trigger lock.

In the case of Commonwealth v. John McGowan, the defendant was a licensed to carry firearms. He kept the firearm, however, loaded in his bedside table.

One evening, he got into an argument with his roommate, who took the firearm and tossed it outside in the bushes. The defendant called 911 and when police responded, they found the gun in the bushes. He was later charged with Improper Storage of a Firearm.

The defendant moved to dismiss the charges on the basis that the statute was unconstitutional as a result of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago.

The United States Supreme Court in Heller held that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of citizens to possess a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. In so doing, the court ruled that the District of Columbia’s ban on handguns was unconstitutional.

In McDonald v. Chicago, the United States Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment right, as explained in Heller, was incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment and was therefore applicable to the states.

In a previous case of Commonwealth v. Runyan, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that although a complete ban on the possession of all firearms would not be constitutional, Massachusetts is legitimately able to limit that right by requiring that all firearms that are not in the immediate possession or control of the owner or user be properly stored.

The question then became, does requiring that a firearm within the home be properly stored or locked infringe upon a citizens’ constitutional right of self-defense?

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said no. Although a person’s right to exercise self-defense might be delayed as a result of having the firearm in a locked container or equipped with a trigger lock, the requirement, whose purpose is to prevent accidents, does not invalidate the storage requirements.

The court explained that because the requirement that a firearm not within the immediate control of the owner/user be locked or equipped with a trigger lock is designed to prevent unauthorized access to the firearm, the statute is consistent with the right to bear arms of the Second Amendment in self-defense in one’s home.

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