BOSTON - Six Massachusetts residents, backed by a gun-rights group, are suing four police chiefs, claiming restrictions they place on gun licenses violate their Second Amendment rights.
A state law allows police to issue licenses to carry guns with restrictions limiting their use for sporting reasons, hunting or target practice. The federal lawsuit filed by Commonwealth Second Amendment Inc. claims those restrictions prevent gun owners from using or carrying handguns for protection.
The suit says policies on when to issue restrictions vary widely from town to town. Some communities refuse to issue licenses to carry guns without restrictions, while others issue some license without restrictions, but only if the applicants establish that they have a pronounced need to carry a gun, the lawsuit says. Still other towns issue licenses without restrictions.
"Massachusetts' (license to carry) scheme results in otherwise-qualified, law-abiding citizens of Massachusetts being denied the right to carry a firearm for self-defense, while other, similarly situated residents of Massachusetts are permitted to exercise their right to bear arms to protect themselves," the lawsuit states.
The suit asks the court to order the police chiefs in Weymouth, Danvers, Peabody and Worcester to issue unrestricted gun licenses to the six plaintiffs named in the suit and to declare the law unconstitutional.
Danvers Chief Neil Ouellette said the decision on whether to put restrictions on a license to carry a gun depends on many factors, including the applicant's background, mental health, maturity and other characteristics. The law allows police chiefs to impose restrictions on the licenses unless the decision is arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion.
"It's not cut and dried," Ouellette said. "That's a substantial impact when you grant someone that right to go any place in society with a loaded firearm. There is a lot of responsibility attached to that."
Ryan Shaughnessy of Worcester is among the plaintiffs suing over the "target & hunting" restriction placed on his license when he applied in 2009.
Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme, named as a defendant in the suit, said in a statement that he is "confident that the facts related to this case will affirm that my decision to place a reasonable restriction in the plaintiff's (license to carry) was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of power."
Attorney Patrick Groulx, who represents Shaughnessy and the other plaintiffs, said he couldn't immediately comment on the lawsuit. A representative of Commonwealth Second Amendment didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.