This is not an uncommon story. Someone from out of state comes to Massachusetts. They bring with them a firearm lawfully purchased and possessed in another state. They don’t know the gun laws in Massachusetts. Their home gets broken into and the gun gets stolen. They do what any law abiding citizen would do. They report the firearm stolen at the nearest police station. And guess what happens next? They are charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and possibly improper storage of a firearm. Someone shrewder might call a lawyer first and ask what to do “if I have no FID card and my gun gets stolen”?
When It Comes to Gun Possession Good Intentions Don’t Matter in Massachusetts
In this situation there is no amnesty law in Massachusetts for people trying to do the right thing. Right now in my office we have two cases where the defendant thought he was being conscientious and obeying the law by reporting a stolen firearm. Both were charged with unlawful possession of a firearm in violation of G.L. c. 269 Section 10(h). This law makes it a crime to possess a firearm without a valid FID card. This crime is a misdemeanor and it carries a potential two year house of correction sentence.
In one of these cases, the defendant, a contractor doing commercial construction work was enjoying a long term stay at a local hotel. He kept his handgun in his room as he would do at home and whenever he would take up a new long term residence for employment purposes. Someone broke into his hotel room while he was at a construction site and stole many of his personal belongings, including his gun. The man reported the gun stolen and was charged criminally.
In the other case, the defendant moved to Massachusetts several months ago. He brought with him a shotgun that he properly stored in his apartment. He left Massachusetts for a business trip. He returned home to find his home broken into and the gun stolen. He too reported the theft and was charged with this crime.
Defenses to Gun Possession Cases Such as These
The judges sitting on these cases were excellent. It appeared that they had concerns about the intentions of the prosecutors. They asked why these cases had to be charged and whether a resolution might be reached. Nevertheless, the district attorneys insisted on going forward with these case. Eventually we prevailed on the judges to dismiss the cases. Here is how this worked. In Massachusetts the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the gun was operable. This can be done only through ballistics experts who test the gun and come into court to testify that the gun worked and constituted an operable firearm in accordance with Massachusetts laws. This was impossible without the guns.
What If I Don’t Report the Firearm Stolen?
I am asked this question a lot. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 140 Section 12C states that anyone who does not report a stolen gun is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of five hundred dollars. In other words, it is a crime not to report a stolen gun. Here is the catch. Once you report the theft be prepared to get charged with another crime, G.L. c. 269 Section 10(h) where you will face more severe consequences.
If you have been accused of a gun offense in Massachusetts you need a lawyer. Call us at 617-263-6800 now. We can help you.