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Maryland gun rights activists drop referendum effort

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Recently passed laws in Maryland that restrict the number and type of weapons residents can own and that require people purchasing guns to obtain licenses are unconstitutional and will not survive a court challenge planned for October, the National Rifle Association said Thursday.

The comments come a day after a Maryland delegate announced he would not try to put the new laws before voters next year and would instead support the lawsuit.

“The bill restricts the number of firearms, bans certain firearms, and requires people to get a license even for home defense,” said Shannon Alford, the Maryland liaison for the NRA. “On its face it’s an infringement of fundamental rights.”

Delegate Neil C. Parrott, chairman of the online, petition group MDPetitions.com said the laws overstep what he called a “God-given” right. He said gun rights activists would be focusing on the lawsuit rather than gathering tens of thousands of signatures to force the gun-control measures to a referendum in November 2014.

“MDPetitions.com wanted to do what was most effective,” the Washington Republican said Wednesday night at an announcement that he would forego the petition drive. “After discussions with the gun groups, it’s clear this is a constitutional right that should not go to the citizens to vote on.”

Proposed by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in January, the Firearm Safety Act of 2013 is one of the country’s strictest legislative packages for gun control. Under the new law, gun owners are required to have a license for their firearm and they must submit their fingerprints. The new legislation also adds 45 guns to a list of banned firearms and limits handgun magazines to no more than 10 rounds.

Even after announcing he and fellow supporters would not pursue a referendum, Mr. Parrott, a Washington Republican, said he believed ”we would have won at the ballot box.”

“The issue here is what’s the best way to overturn the bill,” he added. “By working together with the other groups, the best way to overturn it is in the courts.”

The pending lawsuit is the latest in a series of NRA attempts in recent years to address Second Amendment issues in court.

Gun litigation saw an upswing after the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision in the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned the city’s longtime ban on most handgun ownership. Since then, the gun rights group has challenged a number of Second Amendment restrictions, including a 2009 San Francisco gun law requiring privately owned guns to be stored in locked boxes, a Texas ruling last year that barred 18-20-year-olds from obtaining concealed carry permits, and most recently a set of sweeping gun-control measures signed into law in New York in January.

Kurt Klukowski, a faculty member at Liberty University School of Law and a Second Amendment lawyer, said it’s not surprising that the NRA is challenging so many gun laws.

“The 2008 [Heller case] was a game changer,” Mr. Klukowski said. “It was the launch of what will probably be a 30-year period of developing the contours and scope of the Second Amendment.”

Mr. Klukowski said that while it’s impossible to know whether a Maryland lawsuit would reach the U.S. Supreme Court, the way the NRA is handling the initial steps of its challenge “is exactly the right way.”

“You want to very carefully figure out what issues you’re going to press forward,” Mr. Klukowski said. “It’s better to have no precedent than a bad precedent. You have to make a guess of what you figure is going to fly and what’s not. The Supreme Court has not looked at this issue, but the time is coming to determine whether the government can require you to get a license to exercise a constitutional right.”

Whether a referendum or legal challenge, Vincent DeMarco, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said he was confident the firearms act would become law.

“Clearly they understood they would have lost,” he said about the public vote that would have followed the petition-gathering process. “The law is on solid, constitutional footing. I firmly believe the courts will uphold it. I just don’t see any way this law would be overturned.”

Mr. DeMarco said his organization had not planned on specifically countering the lawsuit, but would be educating residents on what the new law will do.

“We’ll continue to make sure it’s properly implemented and let people know how this law will save lives.”

 

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