Massachusetts Judge Strikes Down Law Prohibiting the Carry of Firearms Across State Lines

Earlier in August, Lowell District Court Justice John F. Coffey ruled that an individual’s right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense does not end at state lines. 

In this case, Coffey threw out a criminal case against a New Hampshire man charged with carrying a firearm without possessing a license in Massachusetts. He ruled that the state government’s requirement that non-residents acquire a temporary license to carry in Massachusetts infringes on the Second Amendment. 

“An individual only loses a constitutional right if he commits an offense or is or has been engaged in certain behavior that is covered by 18 USC section 922,” Judge Coffey wrote in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Dean F. Donnell decision that was issued on August 3. “He doesn’t lose that right simply by traveling into an adjoining state whose statute mandates that residents of that state obtain a license prior to exercising their constitutional right. To hold otherwise would inexplicably treat Second Amendment rights differently than other individually held rights. Therefore, the Court finds that GL. 269, sec. (10a) is unconstitutional as applied to this particularly situated defendant and allows the motion to dismiss on that ground.”

Dean Donnell, a legal resident of New Hampshire is the defendant in the case. New Hampshire is a Constitutional Carry state, where anyone who is 18 years or older who can legally own a firearm may carry it in public concealed or openly. On top of that, the New Hampshire government issues carry permits to residents for reciprocity purposes. However, Massachusetts does not accept New Hampshire carry permits.

Judge Coffey’s order did not provide specifics about whether or not Donnell possessed a valid New Hampshire permit, only that he “was in compliance with his home states laws on the possession of the firearm” when the Massachusetts state government slapped him with charges.  The law he allegedly violated, GL. 269, sec. (10a), established a mandatory minimum sentence of 18 months in prison for any individual convicted of possessing a firearm in public without a license.

Judge Coffey wrote that Donnell’s behavior was “clearly covered by the Second Amendment.” Thereby, under the standard of review established in Bruen, he stated that the Massachusetts state government needed to demonstrate a historical tradition “relating to disparate treatment of nonresidents” to uphold the law.

Instead of alluding to any historical analogues, the Massachusetts Government contended that prior state court decisions had ruled that it was not required to recognize the firearms carry rights of non-residents.

Judge Coffey threw out those arguments due to how the cited state court precedents depended on a time when Massachusetts issued permits on a subjective, may-issue standard that the Supreme Court struck down in Bruen.

“This argument is not persuasive because at the time of the Harris decision, carrying a firearm outside of the home was a privilege, and the Harris Court held that Massachusetts didn’t have to give Full Faith and Credit to New Hampshire laws conferring that same privilege,” he wrote in the opinion. “The Commonwealth points to no historical precedent limiting the reach of one’s exercise to a federal constitutional right to only within that resident’s states borders.”

On top of that, the government argued that its law was constitutional because it allowed non-residents to obtain a special temporary permit to carry firearms when visiting the state. They alluded to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion in Bruen detailed that objective gun permitting systems were allowed as support.

Judge Coffey was in disagreement that the state’s non-resident permitting system was Constitutionally sound because it established different standards for non-resident applicants than resident applicants.

“As stated above, before to the Bruen decision, Massachusetts treated the carrying of a firearm as a privilege,” he wrote in the decision. 

“While it allowed nonresidents to apply to obtain a license for that privilege, nonresidents were not treated the same as residents. Residents of Massachusetts obtaining a license were granted the license for five years. A temporary non resident license was only valid for one year.”

In turn, Coffey ruled that the state failed to fulfill its burden in demonstrating that Donnell’s conduct was not constitutionally protected and merited a felony charge.

“This Court can think of no other constitutional right which a person loses simply by traveling beyond his home state’s border into another state continuing to exercise that right and instantaneously becomes a felon subject to mandatory minimum sentence of incarceration,” Coffey continued.

Such judicial rulings are what’s needed to roll back gun control in deeply blue states. Simply put, there’s no political will in these states’ legislatures to pass pro-gun reforms. 

Our Latest Articles