What happens to the seized firearms?
Weapons seized as a result of a restraining order by the police may only be thereafter transferred to a licensed dealer by the police department. The police department may not release the firearms back to you (even should the order be ultimately vacated); nor may they release the firearms to any licensed individual – only a federally-licensed firearm dealer. M.G.L. c. 209A § 3B is very specific as to who the firearms may be transferred to after seizure. The restraining order statute requires that only a licensed dealer may take custody of the firearms, and act as a transfer agent when your carry rights have been restored.
This means that even if the order is vacated after a hearing, you must first request that the Chief of Police or other licensing authority reinstate your license to carry firearms or firearms identification card. Once your license has been reinstated, you must then determine if the firearms are in the custody of the police, or if they have been transferred to a licensed dealer. If the firearms are still in the custody of the police, they must first be released to a licensed dealer, who may then transfer them back to the license holder (after they perform the appropriate check to ensure that you are properly licensed).
What if your employment requires the use of a firearm (such as a police officer)?
If the restraining order was initially obtained without a hearing, and you are required to carry or possess a firearm as a condition of your employment, you may file an affidavit demonstrating such an employment requirement, and request an expedited hearing on the restraining order. The Court will schedule a hearing, but only on the issue of the surrender and suspension of firearms pursuant to M.G.L. c. 209A.
How long does a firearms license stay suspended after the initial service of a restraining order?
If the restraining order is extended at the 10-day hearing, or at anytime thereafter following an extension or modification hearing, M.G.L. c. 209A § 3C requires that the individual’s license to carry firearms remains suspended (and any firearms may not be returned or possessed) for as long as the restraining order remains in place. As such, any firearms or firearms license may not be returned until the 209A order is vacated.
However, although an individual who was the subject of the now-vacated 209A restraining order may petition the Chief of Police to reinstate of a license to carry firearms, the Police Chief is not under obligation to do so. In Howard v. Chief of Police of Wakefield et al. (59 Mass. App. Ct. 901, 2003) the Appeals Court upheld the Police Chief’s determination that a 209A Abuse Prevention Order issued by a Judge, after a hearing, represents a finding that the individual poses a threat of violence, and that the expiration of the 209A does not erase the fact that the individual has a history of being found post a threat of violence. Since the chief has broad discretion to determine the suitability of an individual to possess a firearms license, the Chief or other licensing authority may consider this information as relevant to his determination as to reinstate the license.
Being the subject of a 209A Restraining Order may cause you to lose your firearms rights for life, and has significant implications as to your property rights, as well. Some licensing authorities may be willing to extend licenses to individuals who are no longer the subject of an abuse prevention order, but it is at the discretion of the licensing officer. Additionally, with even a small firearms collection the value of the confiscated weapons could be thousands of dollars, and larger collections could be valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. The legal requirement to surrender such property immediately upon the issuance of a restraining order could have significant financial consequences. It is important that, if you are served with a restraining order, you immediately contact an attorney to both protect your rights, your property, and ensure compliance with the law.
For more information about firearms licensing laws, applications, renewals and appeals visit our firearms website.