Monday, January 10, 2005

On Being a Gun Nut (Part IV)

Denise's Story--Getting a Gun License in Massachusetts

(Warning-Long Post)
Not too long ago, Bill told his story about how he became a gun nut. Basically, he watched me go through hell getting a gun license while we lived in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is time to tell you my story.

We were living in Texas when about five years ago I saw a job advertised in a professional publication. I applied for the job even though it was in Massachusetts.

I was naive then about gun rights. I shot frequently, owned several guns, but never paid much attention to gun politics. I grew up and lived in states where gun rights were no more questioned than the right to breathe. I should have known that some states did not respect gun rights, but I was not a member of any pro-gun organization. I was ignorant. I woke up when Bill told me a little about Massachusetts gun laws he had researched on the Internet.

It was too late to back out of the offer and I never really considered it; the job paid almost twice my salary and was perfectly in line with my education and experience. I sighed as Bill told me about the gun registration and licensing in Massachusetts. I closed my eyes while I did my own research. We hired movers, put the guns in locked cases in my car, and headed off to Massachusetts.

Before I go any further, you need to understand I am very law-abiding. I was raised that way. I finally accepted that in Massachusetts I could not own a gun even in my own home unless I got a license. Until I had that license, I could not buy a round of ammunition, a grain of black powder, or possess one brass cartridge case even if it were deprimed and had no bullet or powder. I was treated like a criminal and I have no criminal history.

Because of my law-abiding nature, Bill and I rented a secure storage unit in New Hampshire and that is where my guns lived. I was defenseless--something I had not been for over thirty years. We talked about moving to New Hampshire where rights are not infringed (at least not too badly). We procrastinated. We only lived about five minutes from my job and we had just made a major and costly move. I finally decided to bite the bullet (almost literally) and get a license. After all, how bad could it be.

Bad. To understand the horror of this exercise in infringement of Constitutional rights, you need to bear with me as I briefly describe the laws as they existed when I went through the wringer.
These draconian laws (there are other sections than the one at the link) passed in 1998. Before this year, the state's gun laws were bad compared to Texas, but not as bad as they became.

To get a license, you have to go through your local police. You have to decide which category of license you want. There are two categories of licenses and these have sub-categories. It is a system only a bureacrat could love or understand.

The lowest category is the "Firearms Identification Card" (FID). It authorizes possession of non-large capacity rifles and shotguns--no handguns. The Police Chief can limit the FID to mace/pepper spray only, and yes you have to have an FID to own pepper spray even if you never touch a gun.

The other main license is the "License to Carry" (LTC) and it does not necessarily authorize you to carry a concealed firearm. An LTC Class B authorizes its holder to possess handguns and long guns that do not have a capacity of over ten rounds. The Class A LTC lets you own large capacity rifles, handguns, shotguns, and any feeding device that is capable of holding more than ten rounds.

The Police Chief, at his or her discretion, can limit a Class A LTC in several ways. The Chief can limit it for employment purposes (i.e., carrying large sums of money), target practice, hunting, and finally "ALL LAWFUL PURPOSES." The Holy Grail of gun licenses. This is the one license that allows you to carry a concealed firearm (unless the Chief limits this on the license), and transport almost any gun anywhere in the state and for any lawful purpose. As I said the Holy Grail.

That's enough of the law. Because of gun-types I already owned, I had to have a Class A LTC. I set out to get it and boy did I earn it. I first got a packet of information from the local police department.

My first step was to take a basic safety course even though I have taught firearm safety before. This cost about $100.00. I don't mind taking firearm classes and I learn new things everytime I do, so this was no biggie. I even got to shoot in the class--the first time in almost a year.

With an official Massachusetts State Police approved training certificate in hand, I completed the LTC or FID application form. Then I learned that the local Police Chief insisted that one had to be a member of a bona fide gun club. The teacher of the gun class sponsored me for membership (in New England, there are few "sportmen's" clubs you just join, most require a senior member's sponsorship). That was another $180.00.

My next step on the infringement road was to get some passport-type photos. These could not be just any old passport photo. These had to be one-inch by one-inch and the head had to be a certain size. The photographer had to adjust where she placed the camera. The focus was a little off, but the size matched. This cost another $10.00.

I was finally getting out of the costly part of the application. I had to find three people who would write letters of reference for me. Each writer had to state how long they had known me, that I have a good character and sound mind, that I would be responsible in the handling of guns, and agree to a telephone interview by a police officer. All this just to exercise my consitutional rights.

The letters were a bit of a problem since I did not know many people in the area yet. I got two people in Texas to write a letter each, but the police department wanted at least one local writer. I asked my supervisor, a fellow ex-Texan, to write a letter. I found out that she was very anti-gun, but agreed to write a letter stating I would be a good person to own guns.

I had to write my own letter of application and sign a formal statement to the effect that I understood the limits of deadly force. I assembled my ten-page application package, wrote out a $25.00 check to the police department, and took it down to the Firearms Officer. I had to swear that everything was accurate. The officer fingerprinted me, and said he would give the package to the Police Chief, but he never reads all of these things anyway.

Now, I had to wait for about three weeks. My Class A LTC came in the mail and I almost leapt for joy when I turned it over and it said, ALL LAWFUL PURPOSES. There were no restrictions. Its effective date, however, was about three more weeks away since they dated it to my upcoming birthday. Tthey actually did me a favor since had it been dated from my previous birthday, I would have to renew it almost a year sooner rather than later). I would have to renew it every four years. It only cost about $315.00.

Some of you might criticize me for going through all of this costly mess. If you do remember that the Commonwealth is serious about gun laws. If you go to a Massachusetts gun shop, the clerk will ask for your license before they will hand you a firearm. You have to present your license to buy ammo or shoot in one of the few public ranges. If cops catch you with a gun, ammo, or ammo components they can arrest you and you will face at least a mandatory one-year sentence under the Bartley-Fox Act.

Police Chiefs have maximum discretion as to who gets a license and how it will be restricted. I applied in a suburb that has a reputation for lenient licensing standards. Other townships have far worse rules. For instance, the North Andover Police Department and one or two surrounding towns insist that you get a doctor's letter attesting to your mental and physical suitability for firearm ownership. The City of Boston is also highly regulated, but they have only a FAQs page with a brief description of their process.

The laws are designed to discourage gun ownership and they work. You have to be a dedicated gun owner to go through this process. You have to have money. It helps if you are established in the community since you will probably need sponsorship at a place to shoot, and if you live in North Andover, you will need a doctor who knows you well enough to attest to your sound mind and body even though he or she might risk a lawsuit if their patient ever shoots someone else.

I have not even talked about the gun registration rules and they are bad too. But, enough for now. My experience has changed me from a naive gunowner to a gun fanatic. Long live the Second Amendment, Molon Labe, and thank God we moved to New Hampshire.


Bruce said...

And my all-time "favorite" from the City of Boston (aka: Meningrad): All applicants must pass a range test at the BPD Moon Island pistol range as a pre-requisite to obtaining an LTC (A or B).

Yes, you have to demonstrate to the powers that be that your are proficient with a firearm your are not legally allowed to touch in the first place.

"Commons sense" strikes again.

And, oh yeah, it's an outdoor range, effectively closing down the licensing process from November through most of March.

Anonymous said...

I held a Mass. CCW before the draconian rules were put into place. Luckily my work took me out of that snakepit and now I hold a CCW in Maine.

I no longer compete in Mass. as I was told that I could compete there daily but I could not stay overnight, either with friends or a motel w/o breaking the Mass. laws. GOAL has told me that is not the case but rather than find out the hard way I no longer shoot in Mass. even on a daily basis.

You are correct in that the Mass. laws are ludicrous and are probably the worst of any state.

Unknown said...

Sweet merciful crap. That's a lot of hoops to jump through just to be able to legally own a gun. The process is similar to the acquiring a CHL in Texas, except for the letters and such. There's classroom, firearms proficiency (shooting) test, and a written test. Fingerprints, passport photo, etc., but that's for CHL - your "holy grail." I'm impressed that you stuck with it. The fact that people are willing to do what it takes in spite of their government is heartening.