Massachusetts Gun Laws
Each fall my brother goes on a bird hunting trip to Maine. In the past he has traveled through Massachusetts since I-95 provides the fastest, shortest route there from his home in central New York. With Massachusetts gun laws becoming ever-more strict he has consulted with several knowledgeable persons regarding this matter. In years past he has been told that, as a non-resident traveling through the state, he needs to keep his guns in a locked case at all times and cannot stop for any reason whatsoever. Not for fuel, not for food, not for anything. Simple enough. But this year he got a thorough lesson in bureaucratic run-around and legal gray areas.
Dave has recently become the owner of two handguns and the possessor of a New York State pistol permit to go along with them. Since Maine is a gun-friendly state he thought it might be nice to bring is handguns along to show to his friends and engage in some recreational shooting. Being a law-abiding citizen he got in touch with Massachusetts officials to get a solid answer regarding the transportation of firearms through Massachusetts.
Prior to picking up the phone Dave did some internet research. He doesn’t recal the exact web site he found but it was one maintained by the state of Massachusetts. I did some looking of my own and came across https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXX/Chapter140/Section129c.
This is Part I, Title XX, Chapter 40, Section 129c of Massachusetts law. This basically states that you need a license to possess any firearm in the state, then several provisional exceptions are listed. Provision h states “Possession of rifles and shotguns and ammunition therefor by nonresidents traveling in or through the commonwealth, providing that any rifles or shotguns are unloaded and enclosed in a case,” meaning that if you are a nonresident traveling through the state and you can bring rifles and shotguns so long as they are stored in cases. Due to the peculiarities of legal jargon and phraseology Dave decided he’d better get in touch with someone and make sure he was interpreting this correctly. This proved to be a bit of an ordeal.
Somewhere in his online travels he found a phone number for inquiries pertaining to firearms legislation. Sadly, he can’t recall this number or what government department it connected him to. But he called it and spoke with someone for about 10 minutes. He found out that he could not bring his handguns into Massachusetts at all. No big deal on his end, the pistols were not essential. As the conversation wound down Dave was satisfied with the information he had been given: he could bring his long guns as long as they were kept in cases and he did not stop for any reason. Just before hanging up he asked one final question. If he was pulled over by a police officer in Massachusetts did he need to declare to the officer that he had firearms in the car? At this point the conversation took a sudden turn. The gentleman who, up to this point had been friendly and helpful, now wanted to know why Dave might be getting pulled over. Dave explained that all he meant was that once in a while we all get stopped for minor traffic violations. In such a routine stop did he need to tell the officer that he had a gun in the car? The gentleman stated that he could not offer legal advice on such matters. This left Dave confused and a bit apprehensive about the situation. He attempted to clarify that he wasn’t asking for legal advising, he simply wanted to know if the law required him to declare to an officer, in the event of a traffic stop, that he had a gun in the car. The gentleman reiterated that that was entirely up to Dave and he could not advise him further. Dave tried a different tack and presented the hypothetical situation of having car problems that required immediately going to a mechanic. The gentleman was a bit more specific on this point and stated that this would be a violation of Massachusetts law. At this point Dave decided he had heard enough from this particular source and thanked the gentleman for his time and help. Next he called the Massachusetts State Police, who had somewhat more solid information to offer.
The officer Dave was connected with confirmed that handguns could not be brought into the state by visitors. On the subject of long guns Dave was told that he would be taking something of a risk in that if he did have to stop for something, foreseen or unexpected, he may be found in violation of state law. If a police officer noticed he had a gun it would be up to their discretion as to whether or not a violation had been committed. The officer advised Dave to not attempt driving through the state with his rifles and shotguns. Good enough.
In response to this Dave altered his travel route to come through Vermont and New Hampshire, both gun-friendly states. He was even able to bring his hand guns without any hassle with the state authorities. The drive through southern Vermont and New Hampshire, though a bit longer, proved to be more scenic with less chaos than the Mass Pike typically presents. He could stop for fuel without worrying about breaking a law and, in the event he were to succumb to the less fortunate vicissitudes of interstate travel, he knew he would not be deemed a criminal for having the audacity to own a gun.
So if you are heading to or from Maine and want to bring a gun, come through New Hampshire and Vermont. Both states would be happy to accept your money when stopping for food, fuel and accommodations. Your trip may take a bit longer and require some map reading but there are benefits. Vermont offers low taxes and New Hampshire is tax free all together. There isn’t much for interstates that run East/West but taking state and county routes has advantages. It’s easier to stop when necessary and you won’t be bothered with tolls. Not to mention the back roads are more scenic and offer more character than the Mass Pike. When considering all these factors the decision seems clear: skip Massachusetts all together.