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The state of Massachusetts isn’t known as being among the most firearms friendly in the union. And like many others, it treats US citizens and legal immigrants differently, denying some gun rights to resident aliens (RAs). And the Bay State makes the process about as infuriating as possible. Now two RAs from the UK, Eoin Pryal and Christopher Fletcher, have filed suit against their respective police departments and the the director of Massachusetts’ Firearms Records Bureau claiming violations of their constitutional rights. And that’s where things get complicated…

Mass (I just can keep typing the whole damned thing) does issue resident aliens permits which allow them to possess “low capacity” (an entirely separate idiocy, but not a part of the suit) rifles or shotguns. But it’s a mystery how RAs are supposed to actually get one of these guns because the state also prevents them from purchasing guns, magazines or ammunition. Either from an FFL or from an individual.

So not only are RAs prevented from legally purchasing a gun they can legally own, it’s not clear what they’re supposed to actually do with one (once they magically acquire it) since they can’t legally buy ammunition it. Still with me?

Both plaintiffs applied for and were denied Mass licenses to carry, the state’s requirement for purchasing a handgun. Both wanted to purchase the guns for self defense in their homes. And, as you’d expect, both were explicitly denied because of their resident alien status.

Also named as plaintiffs in the suit are gun rights supporters the Second Amendment Foundation and Mass’s Commonwealth Second Amendment, Inc. The suit claims that the state’s refusal to issue licenses to carry to RAs is a violation of the second amendment and the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment.

Now, as you might expect, there are a number of gray areas here. A biggie is the extent to which RAs enjoy rights under the second and fourteenth amendments. In support of the state’s position, the Mass AG wrote:

Plaintiffs have failed to state any claim under the Second Amendment, as that provision only protects certain rights of citizens and does not extend to aliens…because the Second Amendment allows the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to treat citizens and non-citizens differently in granting firearms licenses, as a matter of law the commonwealth’s statutes that do so cannot violate the Equal Protection clause.

I’m not an attorney. I’m not good looking enough to play one on TV. But I have to come down on the side of the state in this one. I’m not sure that it’s in our best interests to extend second amendment privileges to non-citizens. And I’m not smart enough to interpret the emanations and penumbras of constitutional law to figure out how resident aliens can be treated. Rights-wise, that is.

As the suit details, before moving to Mass, Dr. Fletcher enjoyed more liberal (in the traditional sense of the word) gun rights in California. No, that’s not a misprint. That’s a judgement the state of California made. Mass has a different standard. A standard they should be free to make regarding non-US citizens living in their jurisdiction. It will be interesting to watch this one.


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  1. These guys can’t even own a gun in their own country, so I don’t understand why they’re surprised that they can’t get one here. They are better off moving to a state that actually likes guns and then they can get their permit, because they’re NEVER going to get one in MA.

  2. Let me re-write that for you…

    I’m not sure that it’s in our best interests to extend self-defence privileges to non-citizens.
    I’m not sure that it’s in our best interests to extend free-speech privileges to non-citizens.
    I’m not sure that it’s in our best interests to extend freedom from unreachable search and seizure privileges to non-citizens.
    I think it’s in our best interests to have troops stay in the homes of non-citizens, whether they like it or not.

    Those aren’t “privileges”, those are RIGHTS.

      • I doubt that I would be permitted to carry a firearm in other countries where some citizens are permitted to do so, but perhaps it is incumbent upon us, as the exceptional nation, to treat our invited guests better than their home states would treat us.

        I would offer that rights are not ‘privileges’ granted by the State. Under our legal system, we hold “…that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” The Second Amendment fits generally with the other liberties alluded to in the Declaration of Independence, and is not textually distinguished from any of the other rights recognized and protected later by the Bill of Rights.

        Legal resident aliens status is difficult to obtain and very easy to lose; these are in general very law-abiding people. I would hope that the tent of American liberties is large enough to include those whom we have invited to dwell and work here, although some additional qualifications (such as English proficiency and another background check) would certainly be justified.

        And here’s my practical solution: lawful resident alien ‘Gun Guys’ ought to move out to the Northwest, where permanent resident aliens don’t need government permission, and even nonresident aliens can easily get a firearms permit.

        No matter where you were born, if you’re a law-abiding person who like guns, you’re welcome to be my neighbor.

        • “And here’s my practical solution: lawful resident alien ‘Gun Guys’ ought to move out to the Northwest, where permanent resident aliens don’t need government permission, and even nonresident aliens can easily get a firearms permit.

          No matter where you were born, if you’re a law-abiding person who like guns, you’re welcome to be my neighbor.’

          Isn’t it ironic that, I and my family, are moving out to the Northwest in July?

          As for law abiding and liking guns I can’t see the point in not welcoming it. Ignorance maybe?

  3. Sure, I get it, we’re not U.S. citizens, why should we be allowed to defend ourselves or our families? Or speak freely. I mean, those are ideas that belong to just Americans, after all, and not universal rights.

    Or maybe some of us came here seeking those freedoms, believing in the deepest recesses of our hearts that America really is “the last, best hope”.

    Maybe some of us are here by choice, not by birth.
    Maybe some of us see citizenship as something to be (literally) bought and paid for.
    Maybe some of us love this country so much we’re willing to invest our lives here so we and our families can be free.

    But until then, we can’t defend ourselves, speak freely, or worship in the church of our choice: Those are “privileges” reserved for only for Americans, after all.

    Funny, it doesn’t say that in the copy of the Constitution that I’m using to study for my citizenship test…

    • Kevin, it all depends on which state you chose to live in. Some states want you to defend yourself and others prefer that you let the police defend you, (or you may die waiting) but life isn’t fair and that’s a fact you have to live or die with.

  4. “I’m not sure that it’s in our best interests to extend second amendment privileges to non-citizens.”

    Doesn’t work that way. As soon as one sets foot in this country, the bill of rights and the constitution apply. If we don’t want the law to apply equally to all, stop them before they get here.

    2nd amendment rights are an extension of natural law. The human right to self defense. Remember? God given rights protected by our constitution. Don’t fall into the hypocrisy of supporting some rights, but not all rights for everyone.

    • It is in the best interest to extend those rights. Why? Because far and away those that fight to get here are doing so because they love this place (I am a good example). That can’t be said for the masses that are born here but take issue with this country and continue to rail against it.

    • While you are probably right in theory, in practice it is not necessarily true that aliens get the same rights. The Constitution covers citizens, and when it says “people” it is talking about citizens.

      • Yes, which in fact does cover those that are in the process of ‘becoming’ citizens. I doubt my immigration official was wrong in that. Maybe for temp work folk you have a point but to those that swear on the flag it is different.

  5. Given that their stated their reason for wanting a firearm was for home defense, I don’t understand why they didn’t go the route of purchasing a shotgun, and then sue MA for the right to purchase ammo, etc… At least then their claim may have had a sounder legal basis.

    I agree with the direction Kevin is going in stating that the concept of the bill of rights goes beyond only applying to US citizens. But in this case, MA has the right to legislate handgun enforcement as it relates to RA’s. That is clear. And given that the plaintiffs decided to sue for much more than “home defense”, I expect the Attorney General’s decision to stand.

    • From the article itself

      But it’s a mystery how RAs are supposed to actually get one of these guns because the state also prevents them from purchasing guns, magazines or ammunition. Either from an FFL or from an individual.

      So essentially, Massachusetts prevents anyone who is not a citizen from owning a gun. In a state made famous by a bunch of recent immigrants to North America who started a war to overthrow tyranny.

      There is your USDA recommended daily allowance of iron(y).

      • Welcome to Progressive Blue State doublespeak…

        Progressives in the Mass legislature would have a hard time explicitly stating that RAs cannot own firearms. It would look (shhhhh!) racist. So they throw up impossible administrative barriers and regs.

        Yet imagine the bleating outcry if a state (like Arizona, maybe) decided to make RAs take a written English nutrition test as a requirement for Food Stamps. Or made them all go to a single office in Yuma that’s open 2 days a week from 7 to 9 am.

        Those restrictions may last an hour before the wackjob 9th circuit soiled their panties en masse and issued an injunction…

  6. Greetings:

    While I am suspicious of Resident Aliens, I must grudgingly admit that they inherited and possess the very same UNALIENABLE rights as any and all citizens of these United States of America.

    Those rights are from God Almighty, and NOT from our divinely inspired Constitution of the United States of America.

    The only purpose of our nation’s Constitution is to legally restrict the government from infringing on the rights we were born with.

    (Well, that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work, but in reality – – – ?)

    Thank you.

    John Robert Mallernee
    Armed Forces Retirement Home
    Gulfport, Mississippi 39507

  7. The right of defense inheres in the People — it is a natural right, and only tempered by the degree we have submitted to be governed by the government we have set up.

    Slowly (too slowly) we are recollecting the fact that we never gave the federal government power to govern that right, at all, and the nature of the right is such that it can only with offense to reason be ascribed among the powers properly belonging to the States, and we have underlined in the Second and Fourteenth Amendments, that it is certainly not given to them to govern, if ever it was — as it was with slaves. The defenseless are little better than slaves in waiting, they do what is commanded or they die — look at Juarez or Nuevo Laredo, and Chihuahua and Sonora.

    Aliens may not avail themselves of privileges in our country, to vote, to serve in public office, etc. , but the right of defense is not a privilege granted by government, it is ours from the start. But if we fail to protect the right of any person here to defend themselves at need and with means they deem necessary — we diminish our own in that proportion– and are hypocrites into the bargain.

  8. Er, unless I miss something they can purchase long guns in other states and own them in Mass. While they would be denied the convenience of handguns they would still be legally armed. Unless a state law forbids it (i.e. California) they can purchase ammo by way of mail.

    If an adult comes here on a legal visa and stays for 90 days they can purchase a firearm under federal law if they have a hunting license. Visas include tourist visas, student visas, and work visas. Permanent resident aliens are different. They are here forever (baring future felony convictions or giving up the status by staying out of country) and do not have to maintain a hunting license to own guns.

    A rational for this is exotic hunting. Americans travel all over the world for hunting. It makes sense that we allow hunters to come here to have a go at elk, bear, hogs, etc. If the visiting hunter does not bring a gun and they are here for less than 90 days I assume they make provisions with a professional guide to use a provided gun. Nevertheless this would be legal in most states.

    Note to Daniel: I have no problem with lawful non-citizens owning guns. The more visitors get to shoot while visiting the USA, the more the pressure gets cranked up in their home countries to relax gun laws. This is currently playing out in India as a direct result of hundreds of thousands of Indians traveling each year between the two countries.

    • In Mass you may not even posess ammunition components without the state issued Firearms Owners ID card.

  9. Obligatory IANAL

    If the 2nd amendment does not apply to RAs which other amendments do not?

    My understanding was that if you were in the country all of the constitution’s protections apply to you unless specifically stated in the constitution.

    As always I could be wrong.


    • They all do. When I swore to be a resident with the interest of becoming a citizen of this country I was rewarded with the protection of those amendments. Just as I have taken on this country when I become a citizen and I vote I have to formally tell the Canadian government to stick it. All of which is legally binding and I have to jump through many, many high burning hoops to accomplish.

  10. I haven’t looked into it (not sure where to look), but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to find out that at some time in the last couple of years the Mass AG file an amicus brief in a lawsuit arguing that the terrorists being held in Gitmo have Constitutional rights. American citzens no, Legal RAs no, terrorists yes. From what I’ve seen, that’s generally how things go in the northeast.

  11. If this case is based on the Equal Protection Clause, the SAF and the legal resident aliens are in a strong legal position. Alienage has long been held by the Supreme Court to be a “suspect classification.” State laws (not Federal laws) that treat aliens differently from citizens are therefore subject to strict scrutiny, and strict scrutiny can be a killer to overcome. We’ll see what happens, but I think that Massachusetts is playing defense on this case.

    • That’s the kind of info I couldn’t find (or didn’t understand when I did). You know, not being a lawyer and all.

      • I’m retired from law practice so I have a bit of time on my hands!

        FYI, since the Federal government is constitutionally charged with regulating aliens, Federal laws are subject to a lower level of scrutiny called “rational basis.” Which is why a Federal law based on alienage might stand, while a similar state law might fail.

        If you look at the cases, you’ll see the word “discrimination” used. In the context, it means only that two classes are treated differently from each other. Sometimes that’s okay and sometimes not. That’s why the level of scrutiny can be so important.

        • I certainly understand the kind of discrimination you’re talking about here. What I had no basis to comment on was the extent to which states have the ability (right?) to discriminate between citizens (born or naturalized) and legal resident aliens.

          It would seem that, no matter what that ability is, it should be clarified by a court ruling applied equally nationwide. I’m only surprised that this kind of thing hasn’t been tested before.

          • There are several of these cases wending their way through the court system. IIRC, in a recent South Dakota case a federal district judge enjoined the application of a CCW restriction on the rights of resident aliens. That case has not yet gone, and may never go, to trial.

  12. What a shame that Mass. is that way. You never see the Boondock Saints having that problem in Boston, and movies are real, right? With the alien thing, it reminds me of all the xenophobia I use to run into in Europe, but then again, that was during the Cold War and our military wasn’t popular in all places. West Germany could be very warm to us, but the radicals-their hippies-weren’t exactly my buddies. The thing is, wouldn’t it be better for us to set a positive example?

    • A better example is being set, Cujo. I have had no issue in Ohio expressing my amendment rights. I have a handgun that cleared right away (half an hour) and I have a CCW license to use it as I see fit (within law of course) as an American resident soon to be citizen. Maybe it is just Mass. or these other states that think they can stampede peoples rights that are of the exception.

      I never got the xenophobia myself. The vast majority of the folks with an issue with Americans have nothing to go on but the news (I can say this as a Canadian who has had many WTF moments listening to friends and family) and hearsay. You mention the Cold War and the military when oddly Canada is sticking it’s head where it shouldn’t be lately and no one seems to care because it is Canada. Ignorance by and large cannot be explained away I would say.

      Maybe I am having such an easy time of it because of the path the Boondock Saints blazed. I am Irish. So Irish that on Paddy’s Day I get drunk by waking up and I have been known to start fights over a potato, less often over a nice buttered slice of bread. Thanks, Ireland!

      • HAHA! I’m Irish/French/Iroquois. It wasn’t until my 20’s that I learned to control my temper-better.

  13. It took me and my wife 9 years to get the green card and another five years (on the green card) before we can sit the US citizen exam, yep that’s 14 years to get to the point where we can swear in. It has been my experience that most Americans have no idea how costly or time consuming the US citizen process is, this is why we live in a FREE state of America, not MA.

  14. If you cannot vote, you are not part of the commonweal. Aliens are called aliens for a reason, they are outsiders, not loyal to the State, the nation, or the principles of the Constitution. Do you want some Al-Queda immigrant from Iraq, or Saudi Arabia, or Egypt walking around with a gun?

    • I’m pretty sure they cracked down on letting Al-Qaeda in. I am positive they think it a bad idea to arm them.

      Point is that the scans they run on immigrants now are so through that even parking tickets or where you live regardless of race, creed and belief will not grant you residence. By and large if you are not Irish or Germanic Caucasian you are out unless you pay upwards of 20-30 K for immigration lawyers. Even then you are on a maybe list, one that may take years, sometimes decades to go through.

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