“We would like to see, certainly, a consistent standard across all Massachusetts,” said Carlton, whose group sued the chiefs in Danvers, Peabody, Weymouth, and Worcester.
Justin Stasiowski, a 24-year-old copywriter, said his request for an unrestricted license was approved hassle-free in Wellesley in 2011. He carries a .38-caliber revolver nearly everywhere, except the gym.
Everyday life, he said, has suddenly become more dangerous and unpredictable, which is why he carries a gun.
“I’m kind of caught off guard by national events, mass shootings, and things, and I feel like you never really know when someone crazy can walk into a mall, or a movie theater, or whatever,” Stasiowski said.
Many urban police, who are generally less likely to approve unrestricted licenses than their rural counterparts, see the discretion to deny a license as an invaluable tool to keep the streets safer.
“Should fear alone give you the right to carry a firearm?” asked Jack Albert, the deputy police superintendent in Cambridge. “I appreciate the Second Amendment rights — I’m a gun owner myself — but do we want everyone walking the streets of Cambridge [with a handgun] when you don’t have a proper purpose?”
Albert said he is reluctant to issue an unrestricted Class A license to someone who wants a gun simply for assurance — a young applicant, for example, who is new to city living, has no experience with firearms, and is nervous in an urban environment. Cambridge puts limits on about 40 percent of its licenses to carry, Albert said.
In Boston, police said they want to be convinced that an unrestricted gun license is warranted before they issue one.
“They need to articulate a story that makes sense to us,” Superintendent-in-Chief Daniel Linskey said. “We have people living on top of each other, and the commissioner wants to make sure we give them out wisely and diligently.”
As examples, Linskey said, Boston police might issue unrestricted licenses to corrections officers who have been threatened and to business owners who carry large amounts of cash.
The city’s 4,839 licenses to carry, or 7.8 licenses per 1,000 residents, is the fourth-lowest in the state. The town of Chesterfield in Western Massachusetts leads the state with 272.2 permits per 1,000 people.
In the wake of the December shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, applications for Class A licenses surged in Massachusetts, police said.
“Everybody’s afraid that the Second Amendment is going away,” said Gloucester police Lieutenant Joe Aiello.
Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.