A federal judge has struck down a Maryland law barring residents from receiving handgun permits unless they have a "good and substantial reason," in an opinion that gun rights advocates celebrated Monday as a "monumentally important decision."
U.S. District Judge Benson Everett Legg ruled that the law violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms by requiring residents seeking concealed-carry permits to submit evidence showing that they face specific threats of violence outside their homes.
Judge Legg ruled that states are indeed allowed to place certain restrictions on gun permits to improve public safety, but Maryland law acts as an illegal "rationing system" that tries to simply reduce the number of guns in public without regard to an applicant's fitness to carry a firearm.
"A citizen may not be required to offer a 'good and substantial reason' why he should be permitted to exercise his rights," he wrote in his opinion, which was issued Monday in Baltimore. "The right's existence is all the reason he needs."
The lawsuit was filed by plaintiff Raymond Woollard, a Baltimore County man who received a gun permit in 2003, months after a home break-in that led to an armed altercation.
Mr. Woollard successfully renewed the permit in 2006, but his 2009 renewal application was denied by Maryland State Police and the state's Handgun Permit Review Board on the grounds that he could not provide documents to "verify threats occurring beyond his residence."
His lawsuit, filed in 2010 against state police and the review board, was backed by the Second Amendment Foundation, a Bellevue, Wash.-based gun rights advocacy group.
The state attorney general's office, which represented the defendants in the case, said it will appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his ruling, Judge Legg notably cited two Supreme Court precedents — 2008's District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court ruled that the Second Amendment may extend to public places, and 2010's McDonald v. City of Chicago, in which the justices ruled that such a decision also should apply in states as it did in the District, which is a federal enclave.
Both cases were won by lawyer Alan Gura, who also represented Mr. Woollard and the Second Amendment Foundation.
"The federal district court has carefully spelled out the obvious, that the Second Amendment does not stop at one's doorstep but protects us wherever we have a right to be," said Alan M. Gottlieb, executive vice president and founder of the foundation.
Maryland's "good and substantial reason" requirement has been criticized in recent years by Republicans who have argued that the restriction is unconstitutional and overly vague. As recently as this year, Republican lawmakers have introduced General Assembly bills to overturn the requirement.
According to Maryland legislative analysts, the state has about 14,000 active concealed-carry permits and has used the "good and substantial reason" clause to deny an average of 214 applications each year since 2009.
Over that span, the state received an average of 1,786 initial applications and 2,082 renewal applications each year.
While residents seeking permits for personal protection must show that they are in potential danger, the state also allows permits for many retired law-enforcement officers and professionals who can document that a firearm is necessary to their job duties.
Judge Legg's ruling did not make clear whether the state would have to reconsider or retroactively award past rejected permits if the "good and substantial reason" requirement is removed.
State Assistant Attorney General Matthew Fader said his office will appeal as well and seek a stay to prevent the ruling from taking effect.
While gun rights groups lauded Judge Legg's opinion, gun control advocacy groups were harshly critical of the decision.
Daniel Vice, a senior attorney for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the ruling violated several legal precedents confining the Second Amendment to homes, including the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' 2011 ruling in United States v. Masciandaro that found that citizens have no right to possess a loaded handgun in a national park.
"This is an outlier ruling by a renegade judge," Mr. Vice said. "It ignores binding precedent and more than a dozen rulings in other states."
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, applauded the decision. "Judge Legg correctly ruled the burden should be on the government to prove that an American is unfit to exercise this constitutional right," he said. "Law-abiding Americans should not have to prove to governments that they have a need to own and use a gun to defend themselves and their family members."
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