Massachusetts G.L. c. 140, § 131L: Improper Storage of a Firearm

Massachusetts General Laws chapter 140, section 131L governs the crime of improper storage of a firearm. It provides as follows:

“It shall be unlawful to store or keep any firearm, rifle or shotgun including, but not limited to, large capacity weapons, or machine gun in any place unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device, properly engaged so as to render such weapon inoperable by any person other than the owner or other lawfully authorized user. For purposes of this section, such weapon shall not be deemed stored or kept if carried by or under the control of the owner or other lawfully authorized user.”

Charges of improper storage of a firearm often arise from theft of guns and gun-related accidents, such as when a minor gains access to a firearm.

In order to convict a defendant of this crime, the government must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant stored or kept a firearm.

  2. The firearm was not carried by or under the immediate control or the owner or an authorized user. A firearm is “carried” when there is physical possession, and a firearm is under “immediate control” when the owner or authorized user is sufficiently near the firearm to prevent its unauthorized use.

  3. The firearm was not secured in a locked container or equipped with a safety device that rendered the firearm inoperable by anyone other than the owner or other authorized user. Any qualifying container must be capable of being unlocked only by a combination, key, or other similar means. A door locked with a key is not “secure” if the key is hanging next to the lock. Massachusetts courts have interpreted the statute to require that guns be secured in a way “that will deter all but the most persistent from gaining access.”

The term “firearm” is defined in G.L.c. 140, section 121 as “a pistol, revolver or other weapon of any description, loaded or unloaded, from which a shot or bullet can be discharged and of which the length of the barrel or barrels is less than 16 inches or 18 inches in the case of a shotgun as originally manufactured.”

The Supreme Judicial Court has held that G.L.c. 140, section 131L falls outside of the Second Amendment’s scope because it is consistent with the right to bear arms in self- defense in one’s home and because it is designed to prevent unlicensed persons from gaining accessed to firearms. That court determined that the statute is constitutional and may be enforced to protect the health and safety of the citizens of Massachusetts.

Related Offenses

Offenses related to G.L.c. 140, section 131L include:

  • G.L. c. 269, §10(a) (illegal carrying of a firearm)
  • G.L. c. 269 §10(h) (illegal possession of a firearm)
  • G.L. c. 269 §12D (carrying a shotgun or rifle on a public way)
  • G.L. c. 269 §10H (carrying a loaded firearm while under the influence of drugs or alcohol)
  • G.L. c. 269 §12F (illegal discharging of weapons)
Improper Storage of a Firearm Defense

The statute is designed to limit access to guns by irresponsible persons and to constrain the ability to use guns to inflict harm, intentionally or accidentally, on oneself or on others. Given the goals of the statute and the dangers associated with improperly stored firearms, police, prosecutors, and judges in Massachusetts take these charges very seriously. If you have been charged with improper storage of a firearm, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately.

Penalties

The penalties under G.L.c. 140, § 131L for the crime of improper storage of a firearm are as follows:

  • In the case of a firearm, rifle or shotgun that is not a large capacity weapon, a violation is punishable by a fine of at least $1,000 and up to $7,500 or by imprisonment for up to 1 ½ years or by both such fine and imprisonment.

  • In the case of a large capacity weapon or machine gun, a violation is punishable by a fine of at least $2,000 and up to $15,000 or by imprisonment for at least 1 ½ years and up to 12 years or by both such fine and imprisonment.

  • In the case of a rifle or shotgun that is not a large capacity weapon and the weapon was stored or kept where a minor may have accessed it without committing unforeseeable trespass, a violation is punishable by a fine of at least $2,500 and up to $15,000 or by imprisonment for at least 1 ½ years and up to 12 years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

  • In the case of a rifle or shotgun that is a large capacity weapon, firearm or machine gun that was stored or kept where a minor may have accessed it without committing unforeseeable trespass, a violation is punishable by a fine of at least $10,000 and up to $20,000 or by imprisonment for at least 4 years and up to 15 years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Massachusetts Gun Crimes Lawyer (617) 263-6800

If you have been charged with improper storage of a firearm or any other gun crime in Massachusetts, it is important to contact an experienced and aggressive criminal lawyer. Attorney Stephen Neyman has decades of experience defending clients against gun and weapons charges. Call his office today at (617) 263-6800 or contact him online.

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