Federal Judge Rules Maryland Gun Law Unconstitutional
In a decision that could have wide-reaching impact on the gun laws of many states, a federal judge declared Maryland’s law governing handgun permits unconstitutional. Officials in Maryland are planning on appealing the decision, but some state lawmakers are already trying to amend the law to eliminate the portion that the court found unconstitutional. The ruling illustrates some of the complex legal issues that arise in the interaction between state and federal laws.
The law came under scrutiny when a Maryland resident sued the state police superintendent and members of the Handgun Permit Review Board after they denied his application for a renewal for his permit to carry a handgun in 2009. The man had initially received his permit in 2002 and renewed it in 2006. When he applied for renewal in 2009, the Board stated that the man had “not demonstrated a good and substantial reason to wear, carry or transport a handgun as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger in the state of Maryland,” as the law requires.
Intent of the Law
Maryland’s handgun permit laws originally intended to restrict the privilege to carry handguns to those who really needed it. State lawmakers also wanted to limit the number of guns outside of residences. Authorities have granted permits to workers with safety risks, such as armored car drivers, security guards and prosecutors. The law also allows permits for those who need personal protection for reasons other than their jobs, but it is more difficult for those applicants to demonstrate the “good and substantial” reason for carrying a handgun.
The law also requires people to prove that they are not drug or alcohol addicts, do not have a history of violence and have not been convicted of a crime requiring them to have spent more than a year in jail.
The court focused its analysis on the “good and substantial reason” portion of the law. By putting such a requirement in its handgun permit law, the state has essentially established a rationing system, the court reasoned. It held that the law was not narrowly tailored enough to both advance the state’s interest in public safety while protecting citizen’s Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
The court noted that certain rights have been detailed in the Constitution, and citizens do not need a good reason to exercise them. Additionally, the “good and substantial reason” requirement would not ensure that guns stay out of the hands of those most likely to misuse them, such as violent criminals or the mentally ill.