The Supreme Judicial Court today rejected a man's Second Amendment challenges to his conviction for illegal gun possession, ruling he failed to obtain a gun license within 60 days of moving here as required by state law, and never mind that he allegedly used the gun to threaten his Massachusetts girlfriend at least twice during the six months they shared her apartment, the last time during a drunken rage that forced her to flee her apartment and call 911.
In order to reach the conclusion that Brian K. Harris was fairly convicted and sentenced to 18 months in a county jail, the state's highest court had to determine whether Harris was, in fact, a Massachusetts resident and not simply a traveler from another state passing through on his way somewhere else, because even Massachusetts law lets people from other states with legal guns travel through the state if they're headed elsewhere.
At his 2017 trial in Lowell District Court, Harris denied being a Massachusetts resident, even though he had moved stuff into his girlfriend's Tewksbury apartment and then spent at least three months there. Part of his defense was that he would never acquiesce to joining the ranks of Massholes because he just fundamentally hated our state and our gun laws so much - to the point of having his uncle testify at the trial about his dislike of the Bay State.
Harris's trouble began one day in Sept. 2015 after an argument with his girlfriend about her work schedule, according to the SJC summary of his case. He went to a closet, got out his Glock, then said he was going up to New Hampshire for the night, the court summary continued - after noting this was three months after he had threatened her with the gun in an argument after he found a photo of a previous boyfriend in the apartment.
He went to the gun range, then to a New Hampshire, then returned to Tewksbury around 1 a.m., when he entered the apartment, got enraged when he woke her up and she told him he was drunk, then began throwing things around the room while screaming at her. The court continues she called his father to try to calm him down, but that only made him angrier and, after grabbing her keys and dog, fled the apartment - while dialing 911 on her phone and got in her car, with Harris in close pursuit, to the point he began banging on the car as she drove off.
Tewksbury police did not arrest Harris, but placed him in overnight protective custody because they determined he was too drunk to safely drive after he failed a sobriety test, the ruling continues.
Police did take possession of his Glock handgun, which was in his car's trunk, for safe keeping. He was then charged with illegal possession of both the gun and ammunition after police learned he did not have a Massachusetts license.
In 2017, a Lowell District Court jury convicted him of illegal gun possession and a judge sentenced him to 18 months in the county jail.
The SJC concluded that
The facts available indicated that, at that point, the defendant had been a resident of Massachusetts for several months.
And that means he was in violation of the requirement that new residents obtain a gun license within 60 days of moving here. The court considered that and Harris's argument he was only going from A to B by way of Massachusetts and concluded: Nope, no problems with the conviction:
From the time he moved to Tewksbury in late May 2015, until September 12, 2015, the defendant possessed at least one handgun in the Tewksbury apartment. As a new resident of the Commonwealth, he was afforded sixty days in which to obtain a Massachusetts FID card or firearm license. See G. L. c. 140, § 129C (j); G. L. c. 269, § 10 (a) (4). There is no indication that the defendant did so, or attempted to do so, during this period.
On September 11, 2015, the defendant placed a handgun in a backpack and transported it from Tewksbury to a shooting range in New Hampshire. He spent several hours at the range, and thereafter "had a couple beers." After several hours of drinking beer, the defendant drove to Londonderry, New Hampshire, to deposit multiple firearms in a storage unit. He then drove to Manchester, New Hampshire, where he dropped off a friend. He returned to Tewksbury between 11:30 P.M. on September 11 and 1 A.M. on September 12. Officers responded to the scene at approximately 1:30 A.M. on September 12 and later discovered the Glock in the trunk of the defendant's vehicle. In sum, on the evening of September 11, 2015, the defendant began his journey in the Commonwealth, he sojourned in New Hampshire, and he returned to Massachusetts sometime late in the evening on September 11 or in the early morning hours of September 12. He did not transport a firearm "from one state through a second state to a third state." Revell, 598 F.3d at 132. See Torraco, 615 F.3d at 132. Moreover, because he had not obtained a Massachusetts FID card or firearm license within sixty days of moving to the Commonwealth, he was unable lawfully to possess firearms in the Commonwealth, and therefore was unable to transport firearms lawfully into or from the Commonwealth pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 926A.
Harris also argued that it's illegal for the state to deprive a citizen of another state of his gun. At the time Harris had a valid New Hampshire license for his gun - although the police chief in his former home town revoked it upon learning of the domestic-violence restraining order Harris's girlfriend took out against him following their last argument.
The SJC ruled that even in the landmark Heller decision, which stated individuals had the right to own guns, the Supreme Court still allowed states to set licensing requirements for guns.
Article IV of the Constitution does require states to give "full faith and credit" to regulations in other states, the court acknowledged, but then added the Supreme Court has ruled that "does not compel a state to substitute the statutes of other states for its own statutes dealing with a subject matter concerning which it is competent to legislate." In this case,the court noted, New Hampshire does not allow full reciprocal rights to holders of Massachusetts gun licenses.