Maryland handgun provision unconstitutional, federal judge rules
Dan Morse and Aaron C. Davis
federal judge in Maryland has ruled that state residents no
longer must show they have a good reason to carry a handgun
outside their home, declaring a key provision of the state’s
gun-control laws unconstitutional.
Gun rights advocates said the opinion — in a relatively
liberal state with some of the country’s tightest gun
restrictions — would help as they challenge similar laws in
about a half-dozen states. Maryland officials said Monday
that they are seeking a stay and will appeal the decision.
U.S. District Judge Benson Everett Legg focused on one
portion of Maryland law that requires residents to show they
have a “good and substantial reason” to carry a gun, such as
a “precaution against apprehended danger.” Legg found that
the requirement, kicking in alongside background checks, was
too broad and said it violates the Second Amendment.
“The Court finds that the right to bear arms is not limited
to the home,” Legg wrote in a 23-page ruling signed Friday.
The judge added that the requirement for issuing a handgun
permit amounts to a “rationing system” to limit the number
of guns carried outside the home. “The law impermissibly
infringes the right to keep and bear arms, guaranteed by the
Second Amendment,” he wrote.
The case centered on a Navy veteran, Raymond Woollard, who
was denied a handgun permit in 2009.
In 2002, Woollard’s son-in-law broke into Woollard’s rural
Baltimore County home, high on drugs and looking for car
keys so he could drive to Baltimore and get more drugs, Legg
wrote. Woollard pointed a shotgun at his son-in-law, who
managed to wrestle it away before being subdued by
Woollard’s son, who also pointed a gun at the intruder.
Woollard applied for and was granted a permit to carry a
handgun, according to the ruling. He was allowed to renew
his permit in 2006, shortly after his son-in-law was
released from prison, the judge wrote. But three years
later, his renewal was denied, prompting him to appeal to
the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board.
The board ruled that Woollard 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.”
In the summer of 2010, Woollard sued.
Under state law, applicants for a carry permit must show,
among other things, that they are not addicted to drugs or
alcohol, don’t have a history of violence and haven’t been
convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than a year
behind bars. Those requirements still stand.
Legg’s ruling only upended the “good and substantial reason”
requirement. In his ruling, he said Maryland State Police
have issued permits to people in professions that may carry
a risk, such as armored-car drivers, security guards, police
officers and prosecutors. Permits also go to those who can
show they need “personal protection.”
The judge wrote that the requirement doesn’t ensure that
guns are kept away from people “most likely to misuse them,”
criminals or the mentally ill, for instance. Nor, he wrote,
does it ban guns in churches, government buildings or places
where the “possibility of mayhem is most acute.”
“It’s definitely a great boost for the right to bear arms,”
said Alan Gura, a lawyer in the case who earlier helped
overturn gun-control measures in the District. “People
around the country are a little more secure in their
But others said that an important safeguard in Maryland —
the ability to judge whether someone really needs to carry a
gun in public — has been stripped away.
“This is a potentially very dangerous decision,” said
Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project at the
Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which supported the
state in the lawsuit. “People of Maryland have right to
decide who can carry loaded guns in the public places that
we all enjoy.”
“I don’t think this is a decision that will enhance public
safety,” said Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns
Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “It will more
likely harm public safety.”
The fight over gun rights in Maryland also reaches into the
state legislature and produces a perennially heated debate
in Annapolis, with Republicans blasting Democrats for
imposing gun laws on the state’s entire population that are
tailored for the Baltimore and Washington areas.
Republican lawmakers have four bills pending in the House of
Delegates to repeal the “good and substantial reason”
requirement. Similar bills have failed repeatedly in recent
years. There are now about 12,000 active handgun permits in
Maryland, according to the state police.
Officials have denied an average of 214 applicants annually
since 2009 on the basis of a finding that the person did not
have a substantial reason to wear, carry or transport a gun,
according to the state Department of Legislative Services.
During debate on the Republican-sponsored bills this year,
state police warned that undoing the requirement would
result in an initial wave of 15,000 applicants for handguns
in the budget year beginning in July and that an additional
10,000 people would apply, on average, every year
But the state’s nonpartisan budget analyst’s office took
issue with those estimates. It said the state police had
failed to provide a rationale for such a large projected
increase. The analyst’s office, nonetheless, estimated that
the number of gun applications statewide would double, to
about 3,600 annually.
During a Feb. 21 hearing in the House Judiciary Committee,
dozens of gun rights advocates crowded the committee room to
testify about the difficulty of obtaining a permit to carry
a gun in Maryland.
Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil), the lead sponsor of
one of the bills, argued that the ability to carry a gun is
an “unalienable right that comes from God” and grilled
Maryland State Police Lt. Jerry Beason about the necessity
of the “good and substantial reason” clause. Beason conceded
that the phrase is “impossible” to define.
“Shame on the state of Maryland,” Smigiel said.
Staff writers Fredrick Kunkle and Greg Masters and staff
researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.
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