Federal appeals court strikes Maryland handgun rule

Federal appeals court strikes Maryland handgun rule

A federal appeals court struck down part of Maryland’s laws regulating handguns Tuesday, overturning a requirement to obtain a handgun license before purchasing a firearm.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Maryland cannot add more regulations for acquiring handguns than for other weapons. The court said the law was unenforceable in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling last year.

The judges cited last summer’s Supreme Court ruling that loosened New York gun laws and said the government must show efforts to regulate guns are “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Under current Maryland law, a person is required to get a handgun license in addition to all other requirements to purchase a firearm. That license requires that a person pass a handgun safety course, a background check and wait up to 30 days.

The majority opinion stated that those extra requirements put an unnecessary burden on Second Amendment rights.

“The challenged law restricts the ability of law-abiding adult citizens to possess handguns,” wrote Judge Julius Richardson, a Trump appointee. “But even though Maryland’s law does not prohibit Plaintiffs from owning handguns at some time in the future, it still prohibits them from owning handguns now.”

“In other words, though it does not permanently bar Plaintiffs from owning handguns, the challenged law deprives them of that ability until their application is approved, no matter what they do,” he continued.

Tuesday’s ruling is the second in recent months to limit Maryland gun control laws. In late September, a federal judge in the state ruled that Maryland’s restrictions on where firearms can be carried were unconstitutional.

That case was also based on the Supreme Court’s ruling from 2022, which has served as the foundation for dozens of suits nationwide aiming to reverse gun control legislation.

In a scathing dissent, Senior Circuit Judge Barbara Keenan argued that her colleagues misapplied the Supreme Court’s New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen ruling and should have remanded the case back to the lower district court for a further decision.

Keenan, an Obama appointee, said the decision “fundamentally misapplies Bruen” by failing to discern between laws that specify that the state “shall” do something with those which state it “may.”

“Simply stated, the majority’s hyperaggressive view of the Second Amendment would render presumptively unconstitutional most non-discretionary laws in this country requiring a permit to purchase a handgun,” Keenan wrote.

Instead of tossing out the law, she argued, the court should have sent the case back to the district court to determine if the Bruen standard applies. Keenan added that her fellow circuit court judges were attempting to “pound a square peg into a round hole.”

It is unclear if Maryland plans to file an appeal to the ruling. The case was initially brought in 2016 and has been backed by firearms rights groups, including the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA called the ruling a “huge victory” Tuesday.

In a statement to The Hill, The Maryland Attorney General’s office said they are “weighing options” over whether to appeal the ruling.

Updated at 3:58 p.m.

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