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Weapons charges in Massachusetts: FAQs

When we think of criminal weapons charges, we likely envision someone committing a burglary or other serious crime and using a weapon as a threat. This is not always the case. It is possible to face weapons charges for simply having a weapon in your possession.

In a recent example, police conducted a traffic stop and claimed the driver was going over the speed limit. During the traffic stop the officers conducted a search of the driver’s vehicle and found a pistol and ammunition. He currently faces multiple criminal charges, including illegal possession of a firearm and possession of ammunition with an FID card.

These types of charges are not uncommon and can come with serious penalties. The types of penalties vary depending on the details of the situation. Some of the more common questions that can help those facing these types of allegations are discussed below.

What is a weapon for the purposes of these types of charges?

Guns are just one example. The prosecution could also build charges based on possession of a stiletto or different types of knives like those with a spring blade or switch knife. Metallic knuckles, any kung fu sticks or similar weapon consisting of two sticks of wood or metal connected at an end with rope or leather, or even a leather armband with metallic spikes can also qualify as a weapon.

What are the penalties for weapons charges?

Some of the more common weapon charges can come with the following penalties:

  • Possession without a license. This can lead up to two and a half years in a house of correction or jail. This includes possession of the different types of weapons discussed in the previous section.
  • Repeat offense. The penalties increase for a second or subsequent offense. A second generally leads to five years imprisonment.
  • Possession of a dangerous weapon. A charge for possession of a machine gun without permission or a sawed-off shotgun can lead to imprisonment in a state prison for life.

These convictions often come with mandatory minimum sentences. This means the judge has no discretion, the law forces a specific prison sentence.

I can have a gun as long as I have an LTC or FID, right?

Massachusetts law requires those who are 15 years of age and older have a firearms license to possess, carry, and transport firearms, ammunition and feeding devices. The firearms identification card (FID) applies to non-large-capacity weapons. These include shotguns, rifles, and ammunition. A license to carry (LTC) applies to large and non-large capacity handguns, rifles, shotguns, feeding devices, and ammunition and allows to ability to carry concealed handguns. Additional rules guide how to store and transport these weapons.

The answer to the question above depends on the details of the situation, but you need to have the FID card on you if you have the item in question. Simply having record of the card is not enough to avoid charges.

How does the prosecution build an illegal weapons possession case?

In Massachusetts they must prove the following elements:

  • That the accused possessed the firearm or had it in their vehicle;
  • That the item in question meets the definition of a firearm;
  • That the accused knew they possessed a firearm; and
  • That the accused did not have the proper license for possession of the firearm

Those who face these allegations are wise to go through each step and check for a flaw in the prosecution’s case. If the prosecution does not establish these elements, they are unlikely to get a conviction. It is also important to review how the prosecution gathered evidence to make sure they did not violate your rights.

What else should I know about weapons charges in Massachusetts?

The severity of penalties will vary depending on the details of the allegations. Prior record or allegations of other crimes in conjunction with weapons charges can increase the penalties.

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