Supreme Judicial Court, January 29, 2013

Section 131L (a) is consistent with the right to bear arms in self-defense in one’s home and is designed to prevent those who are not licensed to possess or carry firearms from gaining access to firearms.  Section 131L (a) falls outside the scope of the Second Amendment, and therefore, it is constitutional under the Supreme Court’s holdings and analysis in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010).

The parties stipulated that the defendant, who had a valid license to carry, owned a Smith & Wesson 40 caliber semiautomatic handgun, which he kept unlocked in his bedside table drawer and loaded with ten rounds (one in the chamber and the rest in the magazine).  The defendant and his roommate had an argument.  The roommate retrieved the firearm from the drawer and threw it outside the house into the bushes.  The police arrived and secured the weapon.  The defendant admitted to police that the firearm was loaded when the roommate removed it from the drawer. 

The defendant was charged with violating section 131L (a).  The defendant moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the statute is unconstitutional.  The judge reported two questions to the Appeals Court:

"1. Do the holdings in Heller and McDonald, under the circumstances of this motion, so conflict with the requirements of G. L. c. 140, § 131L (a), as to render the Massachusetts statute constitutionally unenforceable?

2. More broadly but quite specifically, with respect to rights protected by the Second Amendment . . . does Massachusetts still maintain authority to regulate for the protection of its citizens' health, safety and welfare to the extent that [§]131L (a) could be enforced?"

The Supreme Judicial Court took the case on its own initiative, and answered “No” to the first reported question and “Yes” to the second reported question. 

The Court discussed the decisions in Heller and McDonald, and considered the scope of the Second Amendment.  The Court noted that some limitations on the right to bear arms (such as prohibitions against felons and the mentally ill possessing firearms) are “presumptively lawful” and they are not subject to heightened scrutiny because they fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment.  The Court stated that “section 131L (a) is consistent with the right of self-defense in the home because it does not interfere with the ability of a licensed gun owner to carry or keep a loaded firearm under his immediate control for self-defense.” 

The Court further stated that section 131L (a) is designed to prevent accidents, crimes of violence and suicide by those unlicensed to possess or to carry a firearm, and therefore, it falls outside the scope of the Second Amendment.  The Court found section 131L (a) constitutional under both Heller and McDonald.  The Commonwealth “may enforce section 131L (a) to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens.” 

The Court remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.