Confusion abounds regarding a person’s ability to obtain or keep a Massachusetts License to Carry Firearms after having been convicted of operating under the influence. In some circumstances, a DUI will disqualify a person from holding or being issued a gun license, in other cases it will not.
The Massachusetts Firearms Law, G.L. c. 140 § 131 prohibits the issuance of a License to Carry Firearms to anyone who was convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for more than two years. Prior to May 27, 1994, the punishment for a first offense OUI in Massachusetts was 2 years in a house of correction. On May 27, 1994, the Governor signed Chapter 25 of the Acts of 1994, “An Act Increasing the Penalties for Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol.” St. 1994, c. 25. This law, extended the prior offense look-back period from 6 years to 10 years and it reclassified the offense of third offense OUI as a felony instead of a misdemeanor. It also increased the punishment for a Massachusetts DUI from 2 years imprisonment to 2 and one-half 2 ½ years imprisonment. This means that OUI convictions prior to May 27, 1994 cannot be used and those occurring after May 27, 1994 will render a person statutorily disqualified from holding a License to Carry Firearms in Massachusetts. Second offense Massachusetts OUI convictions may have carried no additional incarceration time. However, this is not confirmed. It does not matter what sentence was actually imposed. All that matters is whether the case ended in a conviction and whether the OUI conviction entered before or after May 27, 1994, the effective date of St. 1994, c. 25, the bill which immediately amended the Mass. DUI law.
Many Massachusetts drunk driving cases are resolved not with a plea or adjudication of “guilty,” which clearly constitutes a conviction. Instead, these cases are resolved by an admission to sufficient facts followed by a continuance without a finding (CWOF). The Massachusetts firearms licensing statute defines a conviction as “a finding or verdict of guilt or a plea of guilty, whether or not final sentence is imposed.” Under this definition, an admission to sufficient facts which is followed by a continuance without a finding does not constitute a conviction. Therefore, if your DUI charge resulted in a CWOF and alcohol program assignment, this should not be treated as a disqualifying conviction as a matter of law.
Some licensing authorities mistakenly believe that an admission to sufficient facts is tantamount to a guilty plea because of language appearing in G.L. c. 278 § 18, the statute on admissions to sufficient facts. This law says that such admissions should be treated as guilty pleas, for procedural purposes. This law does not mean that they are the same for the purposes of firearms licensing.
If you need to keep or apply for a Massachusetts Firearms license, handgun permit, or License to Carry Firearms (LTC) and you have been arrested for DUI, you should speak with a DUI lawyer who also understands Massachusetts Firearms Licensing laws, so that you can hopefully avoid the revocation of your license to carry or an automatic disqualification for future licenses.
It should be noted that avoiding a DUI conviction may not be enough to preserve or your gun license or ability to obtain one. If you have a license, the police department which issued your license is supposed to be electronically notified of your arraignment for DUI or any other crime. The licensing authority may suspend or revoke your firearms license merely based on your arrest, if he determines that it renders you unsuitable. Likewise, a police chief could refuse to issue a firearms license based on a DUI arrest that did not result in a conviction. “Prevention of harm is often preferable to meting out punishment after an unfortunate event, G.L.c. 140, § 131 was enacted as a first-line measure in the regulatory scheme. It has been said about § 131 that it was intended ‘to have local licensing authorities employ every conceivable means of preventing deadly weapons in the form of firearms [from] coming into the hands of evil doers.’” In cases where suitability is an issue, the licensing authority has discretion. In cases where the person is statutorily disqualified, a police chief couldn’t issue or renew a license, even if he or she wanted to, so long as the disqualifier remains in effect. Contact a Massachusetts DUI Lawyer if you need more information regarding how a DUI may impact your Mass. firearms license.