A federal appeals court has overturned the Maryland licensing requirement for guns. The court said the decade-old handgun licensing statute that required fingerprinting, firearms training and a waiting period of up to 30 days violated the Second Amendment.
Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act passed after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. The law required that handgun buyers submit fingerprints, complete a firearms training course, and wait up to 30 days for law enforcement to review the license application, including a background check. More than 315,700 permits have been issued by the Maryland State Police since the law took effect.
Gun rights groups sued, arguing these requirements infringed on citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms.
In making their case, the plaintiffs pointed to a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision. New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen established important new criteria for evaluating Second Amendment legal cases. Specifically, Bruen requires courts assessing the constitutionality of a firearm regulation to evaluate if that law has clear historical similarities dating back to the founding fathers. If no historical tradition exists supporting a modern gun control measure, then courts now must find the measure violates the Second Amendment.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland originally rejected the plaintiffs’ challenge to Maryland’s handgun license mandate in 2018. The court ruled at that time that requiring fingerprints, safety courses, and waiting periods did not overly burden citizens’ ability to legally purchase handguns.
However, the plaintiffs appealed this lower court decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This set the stage for a new legal evaluation in light of the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision altering the criteria for Second Amendment cases.
The Fourth Circuit’s Ruling
In a 2-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in November 2023 that Maryland’s handgun license requirement violates the post-Bruen interpretation of the Second Amendment. The state failed to identify any satisfying historical analogs in early American history for the parts of the law mandating training courses, fingerprinting, and 30-day waiting periods before legally purchasing a handgun.
The majority found that Maryland’s law violates the Second Amendment given the lack of colonial-era traditions for firearm delays and permit processes.
The court also noted that “the law’s waiting period could well be the critical time in which the applicant expects to face danger,” regarding the 30-day license approval delays.
The dissenting judge said the majority adopted too aggressive a reading of how far Bruen goes in striking down modern gun control laws that aim to advance compelling public safety interests.
The ruling is a major victory for gun rights groups who argued Maryland’s licensing process was overly burdensome. However, Gov. Wes Moore expressed disappointment and pledged to continue defending the law’s original public safety intents. Attorney General Anthony G. Brown also suggested the state may appeal the decision to the full Fourth Circuit or even the U.S. Supreme Court.
Other gun laws may fall
Guns rights advocates have vowed to challenge other Maryland gun laws.
Maryland has a law that requires gun owners to surrender their firearms if they become subject to a domestic restraining order. The justices are weighing whether domestic violence offenders can be legally disarmed.
In a separate case this year, a federal district court suspended sections of a different Maryland gun-control law that restricted the kinds of public places where people could carry firearms.
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