The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today Massachusetts residents do not have a Constitutional right to keep loaded handguns in unlocked bedside drawers.
The ruling by the state's highest court upholds a state law that requires gun owners to either store guns in locked containers or equip them with locking mechanisms when they're not under their "immediate control."
The ruling comes in the case of John McGowan, a Springfield resident who got into an argument with his roommate over a $10 loan in 2008. She grabbed his loaded gun out of his bedside drawer, went outside and threw it into some bushes. When he went out to retrieve the weapon, she locked him out and he called police, who, among other things, filed charges against him for not properly storing his weapon.
McGowan sued to get his gun back, arguing the law violates his Second Amendment rights and recent Supreme Court decisions that let somebody possess a gun for self protection.
The Supreme Judicial Court, however, ruled that the Second Amendment is no more absolute than the First, that even in its ruling on a Washington, DC ban on gun possession, the Supreme Court acknowledged the government can set certain restrictions on gun ownership; for example, by barring the sale of guns to felons or the mentally ill.
We have consistently held, without applying any level of heightened scrutiny, that the decisions in [the Supreme Court cases] 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. ...
Nor did the decisions in [those cases] invalidate laws that prevent the sale of firearms to persons who have no firearms identification card and therefore are not authorized to possess a firearm. The Supreme Court in ]the Washington, DC case] specifically recognized that "laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms" are among the "presumptively lawful regulatory measures."
The court reached back to the pre-Constitution Shay's Rebellion in 1787 - in which the nascent Commonwealth required rebels to give up guns for three years to get a pardon - as an example of how the state has long sought to regulate guns.
In McGowan's case, the court ruled that, unlike in Washington, where a city law banned possession of guns in the home, Massachusetts allows gun ownership for self protection, even if it means the gun has to be locked up when not in the gun owner's hand, and that the state has a valid interest in reducing cases of accidental gunfire:
Even though the obligation to secure a firearm in [the state law] applies only where the gun owner chooses not to carry a firearm or keep it under his immediate control, the defendant suggests that the brief period of delay needed to unlock a secure storage container or trigger lock suffices to render this requirement in violation of the Second Amendment's right to self-defense in one's home. We disagree. The Supreme Court in [Heller, the Washington, DC case] specifically noted that its analysis did not "suggest the invalidity of laws regulating the storage of firearms to prevent accidents." The prevention of accidents by those not authorized to use firearms, as well as the prevention of crimes of violence and suicide by those not authorized to possess firearms, are among the evils that [the state law] is intended to prevent. Any law regulating the storage of firearms will delay to some degree the ability of a firearm owner to retrieve and fire the firearm in self-defense. If such a brief period of delay were sufficient to render the law unconstitutional, the Supreme Court in Heller would not have declared that its analysis did not suggest the invalidity of firearm storage laws