A federal court Tuesday struck down a Maryland gun law as overly “burdensome,” in a win the National Rifle Association (NRA) is calling a “significant victory” for Second Amendment rights.
On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that Maryland’s Handgun Qualification License (HQL) requirement is unconstitutional, citing the 2022 landmark Supreme Court case that reset how courts treat gun rights cases.
“This ruling by the United States Court of Appeals is a significant victory, for the Second Amendment and Americans who value constitutional freedoms,” NRA’s lobbying arm executive director Randy Kozuch told Fox News Digital. 2
“Striking down Maryland’s oppressive Handgun Qualification License requirement affirms that the burdensome process infringes on the rights of the law-abiding,” he said.
The NRA describes Maryland’s HQL as a “draconian process.”
Judge Julius Richardson, a Trump appointee who wrote the court’s majority opinion, wrote that “[i]f you live in Maryland and you want a handgun, you must follow a long and winding path to get one.”
“Like with any firearms transfer—whether a purchase from a licensed dealer, gun show, or private person, or even a gift from a family member or friend—you must comply with Maryland’s 77R registration process, which requires you to fill out an application with certain identifying information and then wait seven days while the state performs a background check. And if you want to carry your handgun, you need to get a separate carry permit too,” Richardson added.
“But—for handguns specifically—before you do any of that, there is an additional, preliminary step: You must also obtain a ‘handgun qualification license,’” Richardson described.
Getting that license requires, among other things, submitting fingerprints to undergo a background investigation and taking a four-hour-long firearms safety training course in which you must fire at least one live round.
Then, after submitting your application for the extra license, applicants are required to wait up to thirty days for approval before starting the rest of the process.
“The challenged law restricts the ability of law-abiding adult citizens to possess handguns, and the state has not presented a historical analog that justifies its restriction; indeed, it has seemingly admitted that it couldn’t find one,” Richardson said.
The Fourth Circuit’s decision relied on the Supreme Court case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, which was decided in 2022 and said that for the government to successfully defend a gun regulation, it must prove that the challenged regulation “is consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
“Bruen effected a sea change in Second Amendment law,” Richardson wrote, and he concluded that Maryland failed to make a case that passed the new legal tests Bruen applied.
Gov. Wes Moore, a named party in the lawsuit, said he was “disappointed” in the court’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,” Moore, a Democrat, said.
“Common-sense gun laws are critical to protecting all Marylanders from the gun violence that has terrorized our communities,” 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.”
Firearms instructor and freelance journalist Stephen Gutowski, editor of The Reload, told Fox News Digital in an interview that the likely next step is for the Old Line State to appeal the case en banc in hopes that a full panel of judges in the Fourth Circuit would overrule Tuesday decision. Gutowski said that since the Fourth Circuit skews liberal and generally rules in favor of tighter gun law restrictions, Maryland would have good odds.
But Gutowski says this is a “risk” for the state because regardless of whether they win or lose an en banc appeal, the next step would be the Supreme Court, where it would have a harder time winning over the justices given how the Court has held in recent years, and in Bruen in particular.
“This week’s decision is in line with what the Supreme Court handed down in Bruen,” Gutowski said.
But at least one critic of the ruling is optimistic that the decision is only a temporary setback for gun control advocates.
William Taylor, deputy director of litigation at Everytown Law, said Tuesday’s ruling invalidated a state law “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 added.
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