A federal judge Tuesday declined to halt Maryland’s strict new gun laws while several lawsuits challenging their constitutionality go forward.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake issued the opinion after a morning hearing on the Firearm Safety Act of 2013.
Attorneys on behalf of several Maryland gun owners and gun advocacy groups filed lawsuits — and related requests for restraining orders — last week arguing that the new laws violate the Second Amendment by arbitrarily outlawing certain guns and prohibiting features and accessories that promote their effective and efficient use.
Judge Blake said the decision to wait until two days before the effective date “significantly undercut” the request for fast action, and she was not convinced the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm or that the order was in the best interest of the public.
“There’s a strong public interest in lessening the risk of tragedies,” Judge Blake said. “Potentially the only economic harm could be on behalf of the dealers.”
The Maryland law that took effect Tuesday requires gun buyers to submit their fingerprints and obtain handgun qualification licenses. The law also limits handgun magazines to 10 rounds and adds 45 guns to a list of banned assault weapons. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, proposed the bill in January and signed it into law in May.
Asked by Judge Blake why the plaintiffs did not file earlier this year, attorney Tara Sky Woodward said “we would have been damned if we did, damned if we didn’t.”
Attorneys also argued that the state’s licensing process was so far behind in approving firearms applications that it amounts to a “de facto moratorium” on handgun purchases.
“They’re not ready, they don’t have the process in place,” attorney John Parker Sweeney said.
Mr. Sweeney pointed to the backlog of nearly 53,000 purchase applications Maryland State Police are processing — and that’s without the newly added licensing requirements.
“What we’re asking for here is a temporary restraining order and/or a preliminary injunction for 90 days to allow the state to get its act together, to have the handgun qualification license up and running and allow the opportunity for citizens to apply,” he said.
Maryland Assistant Attorney General Matthew Fader admitted “there are administrative delays,” but the online application was up and running on the Maryland State Police site.
“It’s pure speculation to say there are going to be delays out into the indefinite future,” Mr. Fader said.
Judge Blake agreed, saying that given the application process just started “there’s no showing of unreasonable delay.”
Attorneys are scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss a hearing date for a preliminary injunction filed by the gun rights advocates.
Maryland gun dealers were open once again for business Tuesday, though the frantic buyers’ market seemed to have subsided since the deadline passed.
At Duffy’s Gun Room in Baltimore County, Vince Saulsbury said Tuesday was “definitely a lot slower.”
“People have been coming in and picking up their firearms,” Mr. Saulsbury said. “We’ve had a lot of calls and a lot of people stopping in and asking about the new laws.”
Al Koch, store manager at Bart’s Sports World, a Glen Burnie-based gun shop, said his store stayed open until midnight Monday to help people with their last-minute purchases and applications.
“Today it’s empty. We’ve had some people coming in to ask questions on ‘What do I do next?’ ‘How do I buy additional guns?’ Nobody’s mentioned they want to buy.”