Harassment Prevention Orders (“HPO’s”), issued under G.L. c. 258E, operate similar to domestic violence restraining orders in Massachusetts but affect individuals who are typically unrelated and have never been involved in a dating relationship. An HPO can be issued against any person if a court finds that this person has committed 3 or more acts against another person with the “intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property and that does in fact cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property.” This means that your neighbor or coworker can seek an HPO if he or she feels that you are intimidating them or placing them in fear of harm.
HPOs and the facts surrounding these orders have always been considered by licensing authorities when determining whether an LTC holder is a suitable person to hold the license. While denials and suspensions did occur, often times licensing authorities could read between the lines and differentiate between a legitimate risk to public safety and a frivolous dispute between difficult neighbors. Unfortunately, the recently enacted firearms legislation, Chapter 175 of the Acts of 2022 (effective August 10, 2022), added HPOs to the laundry list of disqualifiers for an LTC. As a result, licensing authorities no longer have the discretion to allow an LTC to remain active after the issuance of an HPO.
Our office has received reports in recent days from LTC holders with valid LTCs receiving suspension notices due to active HPOs. It is possible that police departments are being advised to take action by state authorities as a result of the new legislation.
If you have an LTC and are currently a defendant in an active HPO, you should be prepared for an LTC suspension and the forced surrender of your firearms, rifles shotguns and ammunition. You should take steps to ensure that the items in your inventory are lawful to own in Massachusetts and you should have a written notice prepared and addressed to your police department with a directive to release your property to a valid LTC holder or FFL of your choosing. You should also consider contacting our office to discuss whether an early termination of the HPO is available.
If you receive notice that an HPO is being sought against you, take it seriously. Too often people believe that they can handle these matters themselves and that they will be able to explain everything away in court. The truth is that courts often side with the plaintiffs in these cases since, in a judge’s mind, the issuance of an HPO has no real consequences and may help to alleviate the potential escalation of an issue. The fact that the HPO will now result in the automatic suspension or revocation of your firearms rights will not change this analysis.
Our office works with clients throughout Massachusetts to defend against the issuance of frivolous HPOs. We recommend that you contact us as soon as you receive notice that an HPO is being sought against you so that we have time to prepare your case and speak to potential witnesses.