NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — In response to a lawsuit filed by a Northborough resident last year, a federal judge ruled on Friday that a state law preventing legal immigrants from possessing handguns and large-capacity weapons is unconstitutional.
In his decision, U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock wrote that the law "does not pass constitutional muster."
"Although Massachusetts has an interest in regulating firearms to prevent dangerous persons from obtaining firearms [...] the statute here fails to distinguish between dangerous non-citizens and those non-citizens who would pose no particular threat if allowed to possess handguns," Woodlock wrote.
He added: "The possibility that some resident aliens are unsuited to possess a handgun does not justify a wholesale ban."
Eoin Pryal, of Northborough, and Christopher Fletcher, of Cambridge, teamed up last April to file the lawsuit against Northborough Police Chief Mark Leahy, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas and State Firearms Records Bureau Director Jason Guida.
Pryal and Fletcher are legal immigrants from the United Kingdom. The former is married to a U.S. citizen and is an assistant instructor at the Massachusetts Firearm School, while the latter has resided in the U.S. almost continuously since 1995. Both men have completed the Massachusetts Firearms Safety Course, as required by state law to obtain a license.
They claimed last year that they had been refused licenses to possess firearms in their homes for self-defense by their respective police departments. These denials, they said, violated the Second Amendment and the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and prevented them from protecting their homes.
Around the time the suit was first filed, Chief Leahy told The Daily Northborough that he had never met Pryal, and was unaware of his attempts to obtain a license.
Leahy is currently referring questions to town counsel Kay Doyle, who declined to comment on the case.
The two plaintiffs were joined in the case by the Natick-based organization Commonwealth Second Amendment, Inc., and the Bellevue, Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation, Inc. The two groups attempted to file on behalf of all legal immigrants. Woodlock, however, determined that they did not have standing. "Neither [Second Amendment Foundation, Inc.] nor [Commonwealth Second Amendment, Inc.] has identified a single member who sought to obtain a license to carry a firearm in Massachusetts, let alone was denied," he wrote.
Still, Brent Carlton, spokesperson for Commonwealth Second Amendment, Inc., said, "overall, we're very happy with the ruling." He referred to the law being challenged as a vestige of a "anti-immigrant, anti-Irish, anti-communist" past, and called it outdated.
It is still possible that the state may appeal the decision. According to Terrel Harris, spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, his office is still reviewing the decision, and declined not comment further.
To read the full text of Judge Woodlock's decision, click on the attached file below.