RICHMOND — Attorneys for the state of Maryland argued Wednesday in federal court that a law requiring residents to provide a "good and substantial reason" for seeking handgun permits is a reasonable restriction that promotes safety without violating the Second Amendment.
The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday from the state and from gun-rights advocates on opposite sides of a U.S. District Court decision that struck down the law as unconstitutional.
State attorneys argued the requirement is no different from many common restrictions placed on permit applicants, while their opponents contended that the state is unlawfully forcing residents to explain why they want to exercise a fundamental right.
"We're certainly not asking the court to tell Maryland how to regulate handguns," said Alan Gura, a prominent gun-rights attorney representing the plaintiff in the case. "All we're saying is that they proceed with the understanding that there is an issue of fundamental rights here."
The three-judge panel peppered the attorneys with questions during Wednesday's proceedings, which lasted about 45 minutes.
Many of their questions centered on how Maryland's law compares to restrictions on handgun permits in other states, and whether previous court cases establish or deny a right to carry handguns outside one's home.
Maryland Assistant Attorney General Matthew Fader argued that the state's restriction is no less legitimate than other widely accepted regulations on the Second Amendment, such as outlawing gun possession in certain public places or denying permits to people with histories of violence.
"What the plaintiffs want is not the right to carry for self-defense, but to carry for no reason at all," said Mr. Fader, who criticized the lower court's decision as an activist ruling delivered in "broad political consensus against gun control."
After court adjourned, State Police Secretary Col. Marcus L. Brown said that he considers the law to be a crucial safety measure that has helped to reduce gun violence.
"Our number-one responsibility is fighting crime," he said. "And if the state feels this is the way to do it, then Maryland State Police supports the law."
The plaintiffs and defendants both say the case will boil down largely to whether the "good and substantial reason" clause is a reasonable restriction, but they disagree on whether the case will help to decide the long-standing issue of whether the Second Amendment extends beyond the home.
Mr. Gura contended that a decision in his client's favor would bolster arguments that the Constitution guarantees a right to be armed in public, while Mr. Fader said it is immaterial to the case because states are allowed to place reasonable restrictions even if the right itself extends beyond the home.
The three-judge panel could announce its decision within days or months, but Mr. Gura said he expects the ruling to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The lawsuit was initially filed in 2010 by Raymond Woollard, a Baltimore County man who sued Maryland State Police and the state's Handgun Permit Review Board after they declined to renew his handgun permit because he did not provide documents to "verify a threat beyond his residence," as required by state law.
Although the lower court sided with Mr. Woollard, the restriction on permits has continued while the appeal is pending.
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