Pro-gun rights lawmakers in Maryland are pushing back against some of the strictest firearms laws in the county with legislation that would expand concealed carry permits, declaring momentum from Republican gains in last year’s elections — including a GOP governor — in the deep-blue state and a national trend for making it easier for citizens to bear arms.
A bill working its way through the General Assembly would make self-defense adequate justification for obtaining a concealed carry permit. Under current law, applicants qualify only if a Maryland State Police investigation finds a “good and substantial reason” to carry a handgun, including a determination that the permit is “necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger.”
Gun rights advocates argue that the criteria are overly subjective and have been used to prevent most Marylanders from qualifying for a permit.
“The only way basically to get a gun permit is to say that you carry large amounts of money,” said state Sen. Wayne Norman, the bill’s author. “It seems like a charade to me.”
If the measure is enacted, applicants still would have to meet other requirements, including passing a criminal background check and a screening for a history of addiction, alcoholism and violence.
State Police last year denied 189 concealed carry applications for failure to show good reason, compared with 16 for mental conditions, 14 for convicted felons, six for convicted drug criminals and one for propensity for violence, state records. show
The legislation, designated Senate Bill 100, is scheduled for a hearing next month before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Another bill being debated would create reciprocity agreements for permit holders from other states to carry guns in Maryland.
The proposals are modest compared with other states are debating.
Legislation advancing in New Hampshire, Kansas, Mississippi and Montana would make concealed carry a right not subject to permits. These states are part of a growing “constitutional carry” movement.
In Congress, Republican lawmakers in both chambers have introduced the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would grant reciprocity among all states with concealed carry laws.
Still, any easing of restrictions to concealed carry is considered ambitious in liberal-leaning Maryland.
Mr. Norman, Harford County Republican, acknowledged that the bill faces resistance in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. But he said his effort got a boost when Republicans picked up seats in the House of Delegates and the Senate, as well as electing Larry Hogan — the second Republican governor since 1969.
Democrats still hold overwhelming majorities in both chambers.
During the election campaign Mr. Hogan weathered accusations that he would roll back firearms laws and unleash gun violence on children and families, but as governor has kept himself out of the gun debate. He has promised to leave gun laws alone and hasn’t taken a position on the concealed carry bills.
Mr. Norman also claimed momentum in a nationwide backlash against big government and tough gun-control laws passed in response to the December 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Mr. Hogan’s predecessor, Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed one of the toughest gun laws in the nation. It bans 45 types of assault rifles and requires gun buyers to be fingerprinted by the state police.
“People are feeling kind of insecure in their person and their property,” Mr. Norman said. “People are not really confident in the ability of government to take care of them, which I think is a wonderful thing [because] people need to be self-sufficient. People need to be responsible for themselves.”
Gun control advocates insist that any attempt to expand concealed carry would fail.
“No bill to weaken Maryland’s gun violence prevention laws are going to go anywhere this year. Nowhere. None of them are going to pass,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the board of directors of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. “Maryland’s law has been approved by the courts and it’s working.”
The law’s “good and substantial reason” criteria survived a court challenge in 2013, when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower-court ruling that struck down the law as unconstitutional.