More in Mass. packing heat

More in Mass. packing heat

27 percent increase in licenses to carry high-capacity weapons since 2008

Over the last four years, the number of Massachusetts residents with so-called Class A licenses that allow them to carry high-capacity weapons has increased almost 27 percent. In Boston, the increase is even greater, more than 50 percent.

Class A licenses, according to Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, permit the holder to carry a concealed weapon and to possess a large capacity handgun, shotgun, or rifle. A large capacity handgun or rifle holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition, while a large capacity shotgun holds more than five rounds.

To Rep. David Linsky, a Natick Democrat who is pushing state lawmakers to pass much tougher gun control laws, the rising number of Class A licenses is a troubling sign. Many assault weapons are banned in Massachusetts, but Linsky says gun manufacturers have figured a way to sidestep the ban. He says many of the high-capacity weapons being sold in the state are basically “lite” versions of assault weapons with such features as flash suppressors, bayonet mounts, and collapsible stocks removed.

“They can configure these things to qualify in Massachusetts,” Linsky said. “It troubles me immensely because these are weapons that are civilian versions of military weapons. They are designed to kill large quantities of human beings as quickly as possible.”

The state’s Class B license permits the holder to own a large capacity rifle or shotgun, but not a handgun. The Class B license also doesn’t permit the holder to carry a concealed weapon. The Firearms Identification Card, the state’s other major gun permit, allows the holder to possess only a rifle or a shotgun.

Jim Wallace, the executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, said the increase in so-called Class A licenses to carry large-capacity firearms is a reflection of convenience more than anything else. He said more gun owners are opting for the Class A license because the license allows the holder to own all types of legal weapons.

“People just go for the highest license they can get so they’re covered,” he said.

State records indicate there were 271,233 Class A licenses issued in Massachusetts as of December 2012, up from 214,215 in 2008. The five communities with the most Class A licenses are Boston (4,839), Springfield (4,232), Plymouth (3,541), Worcester (3,443), and Westfield (3,012). Boston ranked second behind Springfield in the number of Class A licenses from 2008 until 2011, when the state capital moved into the lead.

The state’s 11 Gateway Cities — Brockton, Fall River, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, New Bedford, Pittsfield, Springfield, and Worcester — account for 9.5 percent of all Class A licenses.

The number of Class B licenses statewide totaled 4,328 as of December, down nearly 10 percent from 2008 levels. The number of Firearms Identification Cards issued was 35,461, about the same number as four years ago.

One other license that did see a sharp increase over the last four years was the permit to carry chemical spray. The number of chemical spray licenses jumped 30 percent over the last four years to 15,781. The biggest number of chemical spray license holders are in Boston (765), Springfield (359), Quincy (273), Worcester (235), and Somerville (181).

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Click on the link at the top of the story for a PDF list of the types and numbers of licenses for guns there are in each community in the state.