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Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 2023 ‘State Right to Bear Arms in Massachusetts.’ Other Laws & Policies. San Francisco, CA: Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 29 September

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State Right to Bear Arms in Massachusetts

Article XVII of the Constitution of the Commonweath of Massachusetts provides:

The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. 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.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has held that Mass. Const. art. XVII does not guarantee individual ownership or possession of weapons. In Commonwealth v. Depina, the court rejected defendant's challenge to a statute prohibiting carrying of a firearm in public without a license. In Commonwealth v. Davis, the court rejected defendant's challenge to a state law prohibiting the possession of a short-barreled shotgun. In both cases, the court reasoned that a Mass. Const. art. XVII was intended to provide for the common defense and does not guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms. According to the court, each statute was "part of a large regulatory scheme to promote the public safety, and there is nothing to suggest that, even in early times, due regulation of possession or carrying of firearms, short of some sweeping prohibition, would have been thought to be an improper curtailment of individual liberty or to undercut the militia system."

In Chief of Police of Shelburne v. Moyer, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals concluded, consistent with Davis, that a statute requiring a person to have a license in order to carry a firearm did not violate Mass. Const. art. XVII because "[t]here is no right under art. 17…for a private citizen to keep and bear arms and thus to require that a citizen have a license to do so is not unconstitutional."…

[Editor's note: The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence regularly updates its webpages with new data as US gun regulation evolves state by state. For the most up-to-date information on US gun laws, please refer to the Giffords URL below]

ID: Q8241

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