A Massachusetts judge ruled that a person’s constitutionally protected rights do not end at a state’s borders.
The case, Commonwealth v. Dean Donnell, involves a New Hampshire man charged in a Lowell District court for carrying a firearm without a non-resident license to carry (LTC). Mr. Donnell’s legal team filed a motion to dismiss the case claiming the law is unconstitutional on its face, unconstitutional as applied to the defendant, and violates the man’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
The legal team argued that the law requiring out-of-state residents to get a temporary LTC violates the Second Amendment. They also argued that the burden of proof is impermissibly shifted to the defendant to prove they have a license to carry a firearm. The burden of proof is supposed to be on the state to establish a person is guilty of a crime.
The most compelling argument made by Donnell’s legal team was that “requiring non-residents to obtain licenses to carry firearms violates the Second Amendment because there is no historical analogue burdening the right to interstate travel.”
The state relied on the 2019 case, Commonwealth v. Harris, to justify its stance, but the defendant’s lawyer pointed out that the case was decided before the landmark Supreme Court decision in Bruen, which eliminated interest balancing in Second Amendment cases. The lawyers say the Commonwealth v. Harris no longer passes constitutional muster.
The final argument is that the defendant’s right to equal protection and the right to travel was also violated. LTCs for Massachusetts residents are good for five years. Non-state residents are limited to a temporary LTC that must be renewed annually. The lawyers claim that this difference violated the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution.
Judge John Coffey reviewed the arguments by the state and found them lacking, pointing to how the Bruen decision changed the legal landscape for gun laws and Second Amendment cases. He pointed out how Massachusetts once considered carrying a firearm outside the home a privilege, an idea that SCOTUS has undoubtedly rejected.
The judge ruled that the law Donnell was accused of violating was inconsistent with the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment. The judge pointed out that the state could not provide a historical analogue for charging an otherwise law-abiding citizen for carrying a firearm outside their home state. Because Massachusetts could not give an example of a similar law during the ratification of the Second Amendment, the state did not carry the burden of proof.
The judge also denied the state’s assertion that the non-resident permits fulfilled the Equal Protection Clause. The judge specifically pointed to the difference in length of time a non-resident and a resident license last as to why the law isn’t consistent with the Equal Protection Clause.
“The Commonwealth’s argument against the defendant’s claim that GL 269, sec. 10(a) violates his rights under the equal protection clause because he can obtain a temporary non-resident license to carry is also unpersuasive. As stated above, prior to the Bruen decision, Massachusetts treated the carrying of a firearm as a privilege. While it allowed non-residents to apply to obtain a license for that privilege, non-residents were not treated the same as residents. Residents of Massachusetts obtaining a license were granted the license for five years. A temporary non-resident license was only valid for one year,” the order read.
The judge also rejected the state’s claim “that the licensing scheme imposes a permissible burden because of the substantial state interest in preventing certain people from possessing firearms.” The judge pointed out that certain people are already prohibited by federal law, so the state’s argument didn’t hold water.
The judge also said that person should not become a felon for exercising a constitutional right while passing through Massachusetts. He highlighted an example of a mall mainly in New Hampshire but partially in Massachusetts. He pointed out that a New Hampshire resident can cross an imaginary line and be guilty of a felony.
Judge Coffey dismissed the case. This case is a state-level case and only affects the defendant.
About John Crump
John is an NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people from all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.