The U.S.’s republican form of governance is predicated on co-equal branches of government that check and balance each other in order to preserve individual liberty. The system does not work when one branch simply ignores the lawful authority of another branch.
In Massachusetts, all prospective firearm owners are required to obtain a Firearms Owner Identification card or a License to Carry. Both licenses require applicants to submit to significant training requirements and a background check. Moreover, the licenses are may-issue, with local law enforcement retaining significant discretion over who may or may not obtain a license.
In 2004, the state instituted the Firearms Licensing Review Board. The law provides that a person denied a firearms license due to certain misdemeanor convictions punishable by up to two and a half years imprisonment may appeal the denial to the Firearms Licensing Review Board. The Firearms Licensing Review Board is vital to Massachusetts gun owners, as many nonviolent misdemeanors in Massachusetts are punishable by up to two and a half years in prison. For instance, a first conviction for operating under the influence is punishable by up to 30 months imprisonment in the Bay State.
Under federal law, a person is prohibited from possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime punishable by more than two years in prison. Therefore, under federal law, many convicted of minor non-violent offenses in Massachusetts have not only lost their right to obtain a state-issued LTC or FID card, but also their right to possess a firearm anywhere in the country.
Worse, ATF maintains a very stringent definition of when a person’s right to possess a firearm has been restored under federal law following a conviction. It is ATF’s opinion that Massachusetts’s Firearms Licensing Review Board procedure does not comport with their crabbed interpretation of federal law. Citing the ATF interpretation of the law, the executive branch has refused to process the licenses of individuals cleared to possess firearms by the Firearms Licensing Review Board.
Several of the individuals that have been cleared by the Firearms Licensing Review Board have appealed to the state courts over the state’s continued refusal to issue them a firearms license. According to the Boston Globe, in at least seven cases the prospective gun owners have won their appeals and a judge has ordered that they be issued a state firearms license. As explained by Lowell District Judge Ellen M. Caulo, in failing to heed the determination of the Firearms Licensing Review Board, Massachusetts law enforcement had relied on an “incorrect interpretation of the law.”
In a complete breakdown of the U.S. system of government, Massachusetts’s executive branch has defied orders issued by the state’s judicial branch and continued to deny the licenses that the courts have ordered them to issue. According to the Globe report, “Daniel Bennett, Baker’s public safety secretary, told local police chiefs… that the state intends to block certain licenses from being reinstated, even if ordered by a judge.” In what some might view as encouragement to commit contempt of court, the Globe reported that the Baker administration has told local law enforcement officials that if they are ordered by a judge to issue a firearms license to an individual the executive branch has deemed prohibited, the local official should submit the prospective gun owner’s paperwork to the state, where “officials would refuse to process it.” The administration is demanding that local officials disobey a direct court order.
As the Globe reported, Milford District Court Judge Robert B. Calagione, who had ordered the issuance of a firearms license, explained that the state’s position “exceeded the scope of its statutory authority.” Moreover, the judge noted that the administration’s interpretation obstructed the legislature’s intent in establishing the Firearms Licensing Review Board. In ruling for another prospective gun owner, District Court Judge Michael D. Brennan explained that the administration’s position was erroneous and that a local law enforcement official’s “reliance on it was erroneous, arbitrary and capricious.”
The current events in Massachusetts are not only an affront to gun owners, but an affront to all those who value the American system of ordered liberty. It is really quite simple: the legislative branch creates the law, the executive branch executes the law, and the judicial branch interprets the law. The executive branch does not have the authority to simply disregard a court order just because it disagrees with the court’s reasoning.