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Commonwealth v. McGowan - 464 Mass. 232, 982 N.E.2d 495 (2013)


The decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States in Heller and McDonald did not invalidate laws that require a person to have a firearm identification card to possess a firearm in one's home or place of business, and to have a license to carry in order to possess a firearm elsewhere. 


Defendant John McGowan owned a handgun that he kept loaded and unlocked in a bedroom side table drawer on the second floor of his home; he had a valid license to carry a firearm in Massachusetts. One evening police officers were dispatched to McGowan's house in response to a telephone call he made about a domestic disturbance involving his female roommate. McGowan reported that they had an argument over a $10 loan, that his roommate became angry, went into his bedroom, retrieved his loaded handgun, left the house, threw the firearm into the bushes beside the neighboring house, and locked McGowan out of the house when he left to retrieve the weapon. The officers secured the loaded handgun. McGowan was later charged in a criminal complaint with violating Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 131L(a). At trial in Massachusetts district court, McGowan filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, claiming the statute was unconstitutional. The motion judge thereafter reported two questions to the Appeals Court of Massachusetts: (1) Did the holdings in Heller and McDonald render § 131L(a) constitutionally unenforceable? (2) Did Massachusetts maintain authority to regulate for the protection of its citizens' health, safety and welfare to the extent that §131L(a) could be enforced? The Supreme Judicial Court transferred the case to itself on its own motion.


Was § 131L(a) unconstitutional in light of the decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States in Heller and McDonald, which incorporated the guarantees of the Second Amendment into the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, making the Second Amendment applicable to the States?




The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts answered the first reported question in the negative, answered the second reported question in the affirmative, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The court ruled that because § 131L(a) was consistent with the right to bear arms in self-defense in one's home and was designed to prevent those who were not licensed to possess or carry firearms from gaining access to firearms, it fell outside the scope of the Second Amendment. As a result, it was subject only to rational basis analysis, which it easily survived. Therefore, the court concluded, § 131L(a) was constitutional under the Supreme Court's holdings and analysis in Heller and McDonald, and further, Massachusetts had the authority to enforce § 131L(a) to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens.

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