A federal appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday on the constitutionality of Maryland's controversial requirement that legal gun owners have a "good and substantial reason" to carry concealed weapons.
Current state law requires residents to provide reasons they need to carry concealed handguns when applying for permits. Based on those reasons, permits can be denied.
The federal court struck down the law in March, ruling it violated the Second Amendment. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has appealed the ruling, which will be argued before the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
The law was challenged by Baltimore County resident Raymond Woollard 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.
"People have the right to carry weapons of self-defense," said Alan Gura, the lead lawyer for the Second Amendment Foundation. "The state cannot require a special need or cause to do so. It is a right that is being regulated."
David Paulson, a spokesman for Mr. Gansler's office, offered no comments Monday on the upcoming arguments.
In arguments filed with the court, Mr. Gansler, a Democrat, wrote that the whole reason the law was enacted was to reduce gun violence in public places. Maryland has a high crime rate, the arguments state, and handguns drive those rates of violence higher.
"Many assaults arise from petty disputes, and the presence of handguns greatly increases the likelihood that the disputes will become violent and deadly," the argument states.
Because of the pending appeal, the March ruling is not yet in effect.
Since the ruling came down, Maryland lawmakers have looked at legislative options to strengthen gun control.
During the August special session, Baltimore Democratic Sen. William C. Ferguson IV introduced a bill that would require firearms training and prohibit permit holders from carrying guns in places such as churches, bars and movie theaters. He said the bill is aimed at ensuring permit holders are responsible arms owners. Lawmakers did not vote on the bill.
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.
The Second Amendment Foundation has been actively fighting state laws that limit the right to carry weapons. Mr. Gura has won two U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with gun rights.
Regardless of the ruling that comes from the appellate court, the case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision.
"We're trying to get the law to the highest level possible, so the right will be extended to as many Americans as possible," said Alan M. Gottlieb, executive vice president and founder of the Second Amendment Foundation.
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