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Mass. police chiefs sued over gun license limits

Six Massachusetts residents, backed by a gun-rights group, are suing four police chiefs, arguing that restrictions the chiefs place on gun licenses violate Second Amendment rights.

A state law allows police to issue licenses to carry guns with restrictions limiting their use to sporting reasons, hunting, or target practice.

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The federal lawsuit filed by Commonwealth Second Amendment Inc. contends that those restrictions prevent gun owners from using or carrying handguns for protection.

The suit said 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 licenses 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 police 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.

‘That’s a substantial impact when you grant someone that right to go any place in society with a loaded firearm.’

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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,’’ he added. “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 could not immediately comment on the lawsuit. A representative of Commonwealth Second Amendment did not immediately ­return a call seeking comment.

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