Many of the new law’s restrictions on carrying guns will still take effect Sunday, outlawing handguns in public parks and schools, among several other “sensitive” public places. But the ruling published Friday underscored the impact of a watershed 2022 Supreme Court ruling on gun-control policies — especially in blue states.
Russell repeatedly cited the high court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, in which the court’s conservative majority struck down a New York law that restricted handgun carrying permits to people who could demonstrate that they faced security risks. The decision — recognized at the time for its potential far-reaching impact — energized gun rights groups and sent left-leaning states rushing to buttress their long-standing concealed carry permit restrictions that the ruling effectively overturned.
After the Bruen ruling effectively upended Maryland’s restrictive concealed carry law that required a “good and substantial” reason to carry a gun, the number of people permitted to have guns in public tripled in less than a year. State lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly responded as several other blue states had — by enacting prohibitions on where those concealed handguns could be carried.
The National Rifle Association, Maryland residents and Maryland Second Amendment advocates sued the state within hours of Gov. Wes Moore (D) signing it into law in May. They both celebrated Friday’s ruling and said they would try to get more of the law struck down.
“While the NRA is pleased with the partial win, we will be continuing our challenges to the other so-called sensitive places that the court declined to enjoin,” Randy Kozuch, executive director of the NRA-ILA, a political action group that brought one of the suits, said in a statement.
In a 40-page opinion, Russell, who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, found that Maryland’s new law was likely to pass constitutional muster on some provisions — restricting people from carrying handguns on school grounds, health-care and mass-transit facilities, government buildings, museums, stadiums, racetracks, amusement parks and casinos, as well as state parks, state forests and Chesapeake forest lands.
Those restrictions were in place at the time the Second Amendment was adopted, or they were closely analogous, Russell found. But other handgun-carrying restrictions in the Maryland law — covering private buildings, public assemblies and locations that sell alcohol, such as restaurants or bars — were not based on “historical tradition” and were unlikely to pass muster under the “historical test” the Supreme Court laid out in the Bruen case, the judge concluded.
“Although the Supreme Court in Bruen refused to find that the entirety of Manhattan was a sensitive place simply because it was crowded and protected by police, the Court did not comprehensively define sensitive places,” Russell wrote in the opinion. “The Supreme Court merely listed schools, government buildings, legislative assemblies, polling places, and courthouses as ‘settled’ examples, and invited courts to ‘use analogies to those historical regulations of “sensitive places” to determine that modern regulations prohibiting the carry of firearms in new and analogous sensitive places are constitutionally permissible.’”
Gun-control groups celebrated the pieces of the law that were upheld.
“Prohibiting guns in public places like parks, mass transit, stadiums, amusement parks, government buildings, hospitals, and school grounds is not a only common-sense policy to prevent gun violence in our communities — it is also entirely constitutional, and we are glad to see that the court agrees,” Janet Carter, senior director of issues and appeals at the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement.
“Make no mistake, the court absolutely could — and should — have also upheld the prohibitions on guns in other sensitive places, including in places that sell alcohol, but we are glad to see that the court has upheld so many provisions of Maryland’s lifesaving law,” she said.
A federal judge in New Jersey this year issued a similar preliminary injunction to Maryland’s ruling, repeatedly citing the Bruen decision in the New Jersey case and blocking that state from enforcing a new law that banned firearms at medical offices, public gatherings, zoos, film sets and airport access areas. New Jersey is appealing.
Maryland officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they will appeal Friday’s ruling.
Everytown for Gun Safety has ranked Maryland — along with Illinois — as having among the nation’s strongest gun laws but above-average gun deaths. Most states with strong gun laws have lower-than-average rates of gun violence.
Mark Pennak, president of the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue that brought another of the suits, said “the worst parts” of the new law were suspended and argued the remaining law only impacted law-abiding gun owners who went through the trouble of being fingerprinted and trained to get their permits.
“Criminals don’t care and never cared, because they’re criminals. All they’re doing is restricting law-abiding gun owners,” he said.
In particular, Pennak said the prohibition of carrying handguns in places that serve alcohol effectively abridged his right to self-defense while dining out.
“No one is advocating drinking and being armed. But people who do carry like to do so while we eat, and they serve alcohol at most restaurants. It’s not like there’s a sign ‘no bad guys allowed’ and the bad guys say, ‘okay, we’ll stay away.’ There’s still shootings at restaurants.”
Russell wrote that the law’s “restriction on locations selling alcohol is not consistent with historical regulations.”
“Bars and restaurants are not analogous to any established sensitive place,” he wrote. “While it is true that such businesses can attract crowds and there are risks associated with alcohol consumption, the Court is unconvinced that intoxicated people qualify as a vulnerable population, like children or hospitalized individuals.”