A federal appeals court has ruled that Maryland can require concealed-carry handgun permit applicants to provide a “good and substantial reason” for wanting to carry a gun outside the home, leaving state officials feeling vindicated and Second Amendment advocates vowing to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion Thursday overturning a March 2012 U.S. District Court ruling that struck down the permit law as unconstitutional.
The plaintiff in the case, Raymond Woollard, had argued that the state violated the Constitution when it denied renewal of his permit because he could not provide documents to “verify a threat beyond his residence.”
Legal analysts and groups on both sides of the gun control debate have pointed to the case as an important precedent in the battle over whether the right to bear arms extends beyond one’s home, and while gun control advocates claimed a victory on Thursday the case appears to be far from decided.
“It’s not much of a right if the police can demand that you satisfy their vision of a good and substantial reason to exercise it,” gun rights attorney Alan Gura, who represented Mr. Woollard, said in a statement Thursday. “The next step is for courts to tell Americans that they need a good and substantial reason to speak, worship, or be secure from unreasonable searches unless the Supreme Court ends this sort of thinking about our fundamental rights.”
The appeals court’s decision means Maryland — one of 10 so-called “may-issue” states where the government can deny a concealed-carry permit even if certain criteria are met — can continue requiring permit seekers to show that they face a specific danger outside the home or that they need a gun as a retired law enforcement officer or to perform workplace duties.
Attorneys for Mr. Woollard are expected to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which would decide whether or not to hear the case.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said that if the court takes up the case it will have the difficult task of parsing what have been at times contradictory rulings by lower federal courts and deciding definitively what constitutes a reasonable regulation on the Second Amendment.
He said there is currently a vast gray area and pointed out that while the 4th Circuit upheld Maryland’s restrictions, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in December to strike down Illinois’ outright ban on concealed weapons in public.
“I’m not sure the court is ready to take it up,” Mr. Tobias said. “They like to let an issue like this percolate and see what a number of courts do.”
The court’s eventual decision would weigh heavily on states with tighter gun laws, as a ruling in their favor would affirm many of their policies while one against them could force the states to dial back on some regulations.
Many states are looking to tighten gun laws due to recent high-profile incidents, including Maryland where lawmakers are considering a sweeping gun bill that would require residents to obtain a license before buying a handgun. Such a restriction already exists in nine states.
In Maryland, state police say that residents filed 5,216 permit requests in 2011, of which 251 were rejected. Of those, 179 were denied because applicants did not cite a good and substantial reason.
There are currently about 14,000 active concealed-carry permits, according to state officials.
The state has contended that its policy is just as reasonable as other restrictions on the Second Amendment, such as laws prohibiting handguns in certain public places or gun ownership by people with histories of violence.
A District Court judge ruled last year that the law acts as an illegal rationing system and that citizens should not need a reason to exercise a right, but the three-judge appeals panel ruled unanimously on Thursday that the law is a reasonable way to protect public safety.
The panel based its opinion on testimony provided in October.
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, whose office represented the state in the case, applauded their ruling in a statement.
“Today’s ruling reaffirms the considered view of the General Assembly that carrying handguns in public without a good and substantial reason poses unique safety risks that the state may address through sensible laws,” said Mr. Gansler, a Democrat.