Federal judge rules Maryland gun-carry law unconstitutional

Crime, Law and JusticeLaws and LegislationPoliticsJustice SystemSafety of CitizensFirearmsPersonal Weapon Control

Opponents of Maryland's strict gun laws have long complained that obtaining a permit to carry a handgun has been nearly impossible. Among the many rules, the state requires that applicants show a "good and substantial reason" to carry around a handgun.

A federal judge has agreed with the opponents. U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg called the "good and substantial reason" clause unconstitutionally broad -- an arbitrary regulation designed to minimize the number of guns on the street, but one that doesn't necessarily keep everyone safe.

Read Tricia Bishop's story on Legg's opinon, which the Maryland Attorney General's Office vows to appeal.

Read Legg's full opinion.

Here are some excerpts of the case, involving a Baltimore County man who was denied a permit because authorities said he could not demonstrate a threat beyond his home. Legg said he shouldn't have to: "A citizen may not be required to offer a "good and substantial reason" why he should be permitted to exercise his rights. The right‘s existence is all the reason he needs."

The judge cited the constitution -- "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" -- and went on to say:

This case requires the Court to answer two fundamental questions. The first asks whether the Second Amendment‘s protections extend beyond the home, -where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute.¿ Heller, 554 U.S. at 628. This question was left unanswered in Heller, and has not been authoritatively addressed in the Fourth Circuit‘s post-Heller decisions. Second, if the right to bear arms does extend beyond the home, the Court must decide whether Maryland‘s requirement that a permit applicant demonstrate -good and substantial reason to wear or carry a handgun passes constitutional muster.

The Maryland statute‘s failure lies in the overly broad means by which it seeks to advance this undoubtedly legitimate end. The requirement that a permit applicant demonstrate -good and substantial reason¿ to carry a handgun does not, for example, advance the interests of public safety by ensuring that guns are kept out of the hands of those adjudged most likely to misuse them, such as criminals or the mentally ill. ... Rather, the regulation at issue is a rationing system. It aims, as Defendants concede, simply to reduce the total number of firearms carried outside of the home by limiting the privilege to those who can demonstrate good reason beyond a general desire for self-defense.

These arguments prove too much. While each possibility presents an unquestionable threat to public safety, the challenged regulation does no more to combat them than would a law indiscriminately limiting the issuance of a permit to every tenth applicant. The solution, then, is not tailored to the problem it is intended to solve. Maryland‘s "good and substantial reason requirement" will not prevent those who meet it from having their guns taken from them, or from accidentally shooting themselves or others, or from suddenly turning to a life of crime.

A law that burdens the exercise of an enumerated constitutional right by simply making that right more difficult to exercise cannot be considered -reasonably adapted¿ to a government interest, no matter how substantial that interest may be. Maryland‘s goal of -minimizing the proliferation of handguns among those who do not have a demonstrated need for them, is not a permissible method of preventing crime or ensuring public safety; it burdens the right too broadly.

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