1. Is the buyer a Massachusetts resident or a federally licensed dealer in another state?
2. Does the buyer have a License to Carry, Class A, Large Capacity?
3. Did the buyer pass the NICS background check, if required?
4. . Is the handgun “Mass Complaint?” (i.e. listed on the EOPSS Approved Firearms Roster and compliant with the Attorney General's regulations)
If the answer to all of these questions is "yes", then the handgun transfer is legal in Massachusetts. However, if the answer to any of these questions is "no", read on, because there are some exceptions described further below.
Question 1: Is the buyer a Massachusetts resident or a licensed dealer in another state?
There is a federal restriction on interstate transfers of handguns. This means that handguns can only be transferred between license dealers or manufacturers across state lines. When selling to an individual, dealers can only sell to residents of their state. 18 U.S.C. 922(a)(3) and (5), 922(b)(3), 27 CFR 478.29 and 478.30.
Exceptions: The only exception is that a dealer may "return[ ] a firearm or replacement firearm of the same kind and type to a person from whom it was received" 18 U.S.C. 922(a)(2), even if the transferee resides in a different state. Otherwise a violation of this rule is punishable by up to five years in federal prison. 18 U.S.C. 924(a)(1)(d).
Question 2: Does the buyer have a License to Carry, Class A?
An LTC/A in Massachusetts permits the holder to possess and concealed carry a handgun, subject to potential restrictions listed on the license. M.G.L. c. 140 s. 131(a).
Exceptions: There are also LTC Class B and Permits to Purchase allowable under the licensing statute, but these are rarely granted. M.G.L. c. 140 s. 131(b); M.G.L. c. 140 s. 131A. An LTC/B would entitle the holder to purchase large capacity rifles and shotguns, as well as non-high capacity handguns only. M.G.L. c. 140 s. 131(b).
Question 3: Did the buyer pass the NICS background check?
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System ("NICS") is operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is used by licensed dealers to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is federally prohibited under 18 U.S.C. 922(g) and (n) from receiving or possessing a firearm. The NICS check is mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Law) of 1993 See, 18 U.S.C. 922(t), 27 C.F.R. 478.102.
Exceptions: Limited. Firearm transfers are exempt from the requirement for a NICS check in three situations. These include transfers: (1) to buyers having a State permit that has been recognized by ATF as an alternative to a NICS check; (2) of National Firearms Act weapons approved by ATF; and (3) certified by ATF as exempt because compliance with the NICS check requirement is impracticable. 18 U.S.C. 922(t), 27 CFR 478.102(d) See also, 27 C.F.R. 478.11. Also, Transfers of curio or relic firearms to federally licensed curio and relic collectors are not subject to the requirements of the Brady law. See also, 27 C.F.R. 478.124 (Form 4473 and NICS check not required if upon the return of a firearm delivered to a gunsmith for the sole purpose of repair or customizing when such firearm or a replacement firearm is returned to the person from whom received.)
Question 4: Is the handgun Mass Complaint?
Handguns which are currently "Mass Compliant" are those which appear on the Approved Firearms Roster and comply with the Attorney General regulations. These represent the majority of handgun transfers between Massachusetts dealers and residents. However, there are some complicated exceptions which allow for transfers of handguns that are not otherwise "Mass Compliant."
Exceptions: There are three primary exceptions to the requirement that a handgun be Mass Compliant:
Exception: Handguns Documented in MA prior to October 21, 1998 - Any Handgun where the owner can show paperwork (such as an FA-10 form) showing that the handgun was lawfully owned or possessed under a Massachusetts license before October 21, 1998, the transfer of that handgun by a Massachusetts licensed dealer is completely exempt from AG and EOPSS regulations. It should be noted that there is no requirement that the handgun remain or be continuously present in Massachusetts since October 21, 1998; only that the owner can show it was registered in Massachusetts prior to October 21, 1998. M.G.L. c. 140 s. 123, 940 C.M.R. 16.09. See also M.G.L. c. 93A s. 2(c).
Exception: Handguns on Approved Firearms Roster and Manufactured prior to October 21, 1998 - Handguns can be sold which appear on the Approved Firearms Roster, but are exempt from the Attorney General’s regulations by virtue of having been manufactured before October 21, 1998. This category pertains mainly to Glock handguns. Note that there is no requirement here that the handgun be registered in Massachusetts prior to October 21, 1998, only that it was manufactured before that date. M.G.L. c. 140 s. 123, 940 C.M.R. 16.09. See also M.G.L. c. 93A s. 2(c).
Exception: Handguns on Approved Firearms Roster sold to Law Enforcement Officers - Handguns which appear on the Approved Firearms Roster when the buyer is a law enforcement officer exempts the dealer from the Attorney General’s restrictions, but not M.G.L. c. 140 s. 123 requirements. In this case it doesn't matter when the handgun was manufactured, only that the handgun appears on the Massachusetts Approved Firearms Roster. M.G.L. c. 140 s. 123, 940 C.M.R. 16.09. See also M.G.L. c. 93A s. 2(c).