Police Chief’s Refusal to Issue License to Carry Upheld by Mass. Appeals Court

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Yesterday the Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld a police chief’s decision to deny the renewal of a man’s license to carry (LTC) a firearm based on the man’s involvement with illegal drug sales.

The LTC applicant was observed by police in two drug transactions in 2011, though no charges were made. A year later, in 2012, the LTC applicant was stopped by police and then arrested for possessing a small bag of heroin. The stop was later deemed illegal and all charges were dropped.

In 2019 the applicant sought to renew his license to carry a firearm and the police chief denied his renewal based on the 2011 and 2012 incidents.

The decision was contested in District Court where the judge reversed the police chief’s decision noting both the age of the incidents and the fact that no criminal findings were ever made against the applicant.

The police chief appealed to the Superior Court which reversed the District Court’s ruling. The applicant then brought the matter before the Appeals Court.

The Appeals Court affirmed the decisions made by the Superior Court and the chief of police.

Their discussion on Massachusetts’ gun licensing laws is as follows:

The purpose of G. L. c. 140, § 131 [gun licensing law], is to limit access to deadly weapons by irresponsible persons…Accordingly, a licensing authority may deny an LTC application “if, in a reasonable exercise of discretion,” it determines that the applicant is unsuitable, “based on: (i) reliable and credible information that the applicant or licensee has exhibited or engaged in behavior that suggests that, if issued a license, the applicant or licensee may create a risk to public safety; or (ii) existing factors that suggest that, if issued a license, the applicant or licensee may create a risk to public safety.” G. L. c. 140, § 131 (d). The “suitable person” standard “confers upon a licensing authority considerable latitude or broad discretion in making a licensing decision”

Furthermore, a District Court judge may reverse a police chief’s decision on gun licensing (pursuant to G.L.c. 140, section 131f),

only upon a showing by the applicant that the licensing authority’s refusal was arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion.

According to the Appeals Court, the District Court judge failed to adhere to this standard.

Rather, she re-evaluated the evidence and decided that it was “too thin” and “too stale” to constitute a palpable risk. This was error because, as we have previously said, “[t]he [hearing] judge . . . may not second guess the licensing authority’s decision to take one reasonable action over another.

Therefore, the Appeals Court affirmed the Superior Court’s judgment and the police chief’s decision to revoke the LTC.

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