By Samantha J. Gross
Boston University Statehouse Program
This article was originally published in the Worcester Telegram.
BOSTON — I’m from northwest Indiana, where gun laws are the 9th weakest in the nation. You don’t need a permit to purchase, register or own a rifle or shotgun, although you need a permit to carry a handgun. There are 20 registered guns per 1,000 adults — 17th highest in the country.
As a result, law enforcement officials say 60 percent of the guns confiscated on the streets of Chicago come from Indiana, Wisconsin and Mississippi. It’s not uncommon to see a gun in an open holster at my grocery store, the gym or my town’s local frozen yogurt joint.
Overall, there are 36 states with no legal requirements for gun registration, no permit needed and no license necessary to purchase and own a firearm. Because of the lack of these regulations, online sales or gun show sales, most guns in the United States are not registered.
Massachusetts is among the 14 other states. But how strict, exactly, are the state’s famously tighter gun laws? As a Massachusetts transplant, I decided to put these laws to the test.
In 2017, 111,637 guns were sold by licensed vendors in the state, according to records obtained from the Massachusetts Department of Criminal Justice Information Services. That’s more than 306 guns purchased a day, give or take. It does not count guns purchased out of state or private sales.
The most guns sold at one place — 14,604 of them — came from the Four Seasons in Woburn, followed by 7,299 from Cabela’s in Berlin and 3,166 from The Gun Parlor in Worcester.
While that number might not be too shocking, it strikes me as high for a state where your local police chief decides if and what you can carry.
I don’t hunt, I don’t use firearms for sport and I definitely don’t use guns for my job as a journalist. Because I’m a non-resident, I must prove that if I were to use the weapon, it would be exclusively for defending myself or my property.
The process is slightly different from that of a Massachusetts resident. But it is fairly straightforward: complete a non-resident firearms license application, pay the $100 fee and then get certified with a Massachusetts Basic Firearms Safety Course.
Next up on the to-do list is the Massachusetts Basic Firearms Safety Course. The course must be with an instructor certified by the colonel of the Massachusetts State Police, which is most of them. Sound complicated? It’s not.
I chose the Mass Firearms School in Holliston, the largest provider of firearms training in the commonwealth. It boasts a one-time, four-hour class, which is held seven days a week for anyone 14 years or older. For just $100, I get to shoot and handle firearms with one-on-one instructor assistance, walk through the license process and verify my application is airtight. I can even bring a guest for free. The program also has a trademarked “Certification for Life” program, which means I get to retake the class for free if I ever need to be recertified.
Did I mention that I can take a ladies-only class?
The shooting portion of the class will help me maintain a proper grip, alignment and trigger squeeze. My instructor will stand right by my side, guiding every shot. During the session, I get to shoot both revolvers and semi-automatic firearms manufactured by Springfield-based Smith & Wesson and Southport, CT-based Sturm, Ruger & Co.
As a student of the Mass Firearms School, I also receive 20 percent of a membership to their shooting range, $25 off the purchase of my first firearm, and 5 percent off any ammunition or accessories I may need. Last year, the school sold 3,172 guns. Once I get my license, I can not only buy a gun, but even get a free day pass.
After completing the course and receiving my certificate, I’ll head to the Firearms Records Bureau in Chelsea to submit my application in person. This is a process that I’ll only have to do every six years from now on. Next year when I renew my license to carry, I can complete the process by mail.
After my visit to the Chelsea office, all I have to do is wait. They say two to three weeks.
In that time, the authorities will send a copy of my application and my fingerprints to the Massachusetts State Police, who will let the authorities in Chelsea know whether I have a disqualifying criminal record or not. They have 30 days to review my information.
Within 40 days, the authorities must either approve my application and issue my license or deny my application and let me know the reason.
Anyone can apply for a firearm ID card or renewal in Massachusetts so long as the person is not “prohibited” in the eyes of the government, according to state law. In other words, so long as the person hasn’t spent more than two years in jail for crimes related to firearms, violence or domestic violence; hasn’t been convicted for crimes related to firearms, violence or domestic violence in another state; hasn’t been committed to any hospital or institution for mental illness, alcohol or substance abuse; is 18 years old (or 15 with parental permission); has not been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. military or has not renounced U.S. citizenship.
So essentially, with a clean record and $300 ($100 application fee, $100 course and $100 firearms identification card), anyone 21 and older can get a Massachusetts license to carry. And for me (and others from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah or Vermont), a Massachusetts license has reciprocity at home.
OK, so maybe it’s not that simple. In Boston I need to take a “Moon Island Qualification Test” at the police academy, which means I have to make 25 of 30 shots into a bullseye.
Quite frankly, I know my aim is not great. If I want to be a real gun-wielding, Second Amendment-supporting American, I’ll probably have to head back home first.