A federal judge is considering whether to block enforcement of a recent court ruling that would relax Maryland’s handgun-permit law.
The state is currently appealing a March ruling by U.S. District Judge Benson Everett Legg that struck down as unconstitutional Maryland’s law requiring people seeking concealed-carry permits to provide a “good and substantial reason” for needing a gun.
Judge Legg issued a temporary stay against the ruling shortly after the state filed its appeal, allowing the state to continue enforcing the “good and substantial” restriction. He is now weighing whether to end the stay or extend it until after the case is heard by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The state filed its final argument on the matter last week, but the timeline for a decision is unknown.
State officials argue that ending the stay could compromise public safety and cause logistical headaches if Judge Legg’s ruling is eventually overturned.
Plaintiffs say a stay will only extend the state’s denial of residents’ Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Whatever the outcome, the case could set an important precedent and provide more fuel to the argument over whether the Second Amendment extends to public places or applies just to one’s home.
Maryland’s current law requires that residents seeking permits to carry guns outside the home show that they are in potential danger or need a gun as a retired law-enforcement officer or to perform certain workplace responsibilities.
The law was challenged in 2010 by Raymond Woollard, a Navy veteran living in Baltimore County who received a gun permit in 2003 after his home was broken into, leading to an armed altercation.
Mr. Woollard renewed the application in 2006, but was denied renewal in 2009 by Maryland State Police and the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board on grounds that he could not provide documents to “verify threats occurring beyond his residence.”
Mr. Woollard sued the state with financial backing from the Second Amendment Foundation, a Bellevue, Wash.-based gun-rights advocacy group. He is represented by prominent gun-rights lawyer Alan Gura.
The state is represented by state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a Democrat.
Judge Legg sided with Mr. Woollard in March, ruling that the state’s law acts as an illegal rationing system aimed at reducing the number of guns in public without any regard to whether applicants are actually fit 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,” the judge wrote in his opinion. “The right’s existence is all the reason he needs.”
According to state police, Marylanders filed 5,216 permit requests last year and 251 of them were rejected - 179 of which were denied on grounds that applicants did not have an adequate reason.
State officials quickly sought a stay against the ruling, arguing that immediate removal of the “good and substantial reason” clause would open the floodgates for unvetted applicants and would cause problems if Judge Legg’s opinion is overturned.
Attorneys for the state wrote in a brief filed last week that having to retroactively void any permits given without a good reason would delay permit access for future deserving applicants.
“Attempting to revoke a large number of permits would be a messy, difficult process with negative effects, especially for individuals who have good and substantial reason under the existing law,” they wrote.
Plaintiffs in the case have disagreed, arguing that the state can easily track its applications in the meanwhile and later determine which ones should be revoked if the ruling is overturned.
“Any injunction forces the subject part to do something it would not otherwise do, but the real harm here is the continued deprivation of a fundamental right,” attorneys for Mr. Woollard wrote in a brief filed this month.