A federal court ruled Tuesday that a state law requiring Marylanders to obtain a handgun qualification license before purchasing or receiving a firearm is unconstitutional.
“This is a significant ruling for the Second Amendment and every American who cherishes our constitutional freedoms,” Randy Kozuch, the executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement. “This victory is a tribute to the relentless spirit of NRA members, whose staunch advocacy and support are the backbone of our success.”
The measure deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, delivered in an opinion by Judge Julius Richardson, is a portion of the Firearm Safety Act of 2013. The decision was split 2-1.
Under the law in question, people are prohibited from purchasing, renting or receiving a firearm unless they have a valid handgun qualification license.
It is also illegal to sell, rent, gift or transfer a firearm to a person without a license under that law. To receive a handgun qualification license, applicants must be Maryland residents aged 21 or older. They are also required to pass a firearm safety course and undergo a background check to ensure they aren’t prohibited from owning a gun under state or federal law. The licenses are issued by the Maryland State Police. The application review process can take up to 30 days.
The case, brought on behalf of the firearms rights organization Maryland Shall Issue, two individual plaintiffs and a gun store, was initially filed against former Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican. Hogan met his term limit earlier this year and was replaced by Democratic Gov. Wes Moore, who is now considered the defendant in the case.
Moore said he is “disappointed” by Tuesday’s decision.
“This law is not about stripping away rights from responsible gun owners — it’s about every Marylander having the right to live free from fear,” the governor said. “I am determined to do more than just give thoughts and prayers and attend funerals — and that’s why this law is vital to our administration’s commitment to keeping guns out of the wrong hands and saving lives.”
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said he is “incredibly frustrated,” and that Tuesday’s ruling “threatens the safety of our communities.”
State Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, called the ruling “crazy.”
“Every responsible gun owner supports basic firearm training and keeping guns out of criminals’ hands,” Ferguson said. “This decision will unequivocally lead to more gun violence and firearm related deaths.”
The law was upheld when it was initially challenged in 2016. Richardson’s opinion reversed that ruling Tuesday, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which overturned New York state’s gun licensing policy and disrupted the licensing process in Maryland, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
The state has two weeks to ask for a review from all judges in the Fourth Circuit. It may also ask the Supreme Court to review the decision.
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The New York law that was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2022 required people applying for permits to carry guns in public to demonstrate “proper cause” to successfully receive a concealed carry permit.
In his opinion, Richardson wrote that Bruen “effected a sea change in Second Amendment law” and that, in order for the law to be constitutional the state must demonstrate that the challenged law is similar enough to “a historically recognized exception to the right to keep and bear arms.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen said that the ruling is “yet another disastrous consequence of the absurd new Supreme Court standard that today’s gun laws need to match those from centuries ago.”
In a statement issued after the release of the opinion, William Taylor, the deputy director of Second Amendment litigation at Everytown Law, said that the now-stricken licensing process is “not only common sense, it is entirely consistent with the Second Amendment and the new test established by the Bruen decision.”
“While today’s decision is a setback to public safety, we fully expect that the full Fourth Circuit, or if necessary, the Supreme Court, will reverse this dangerous decision and uphold Maryland’s critical gun safety law,” he said.
The court ruled that the state’s argument for upholding the law did not meet the case’s historical standard, causing him to overturn the previous ruling.
“The Fourth Circuit Court’s decision to overturn Maryland’s restrictive gun license law sends a clear message: law-abiding Marylanders fundamental right to self defense must not be infringed,” Kozuch said.