Maryland’s law restricting gun possession outside the home without a permit does not conflict with recent Supreme Court rulings that the constitutional right to keep and bear arms extends to individuals, Maryland’s highest court held Wednesday.
The Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the 2008 conviction of Charles Francis Williams Jr., who bought his handgun legally but was arrested outside his home for violating a state provision on carriage and transport. Williams challenged his conviction based on District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago, Supreme Court decisions from 2008 and last year, respectively, that extended Second Amendment rights to individuals and to the states.
Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, writing for a unanimous court, sided with the state, noting other state courts have reached similar conclusions in cases involving their handgun laws. The Maryland case is Charles F. Williams Jr. v. State, No. 16, Sept. Term, 2010.
“It is the exception permitting home possession … that takes the statutory scheme embodied in Section 4-203 outside of the scope of the Second Amendment, as articulated in Heller and McDonald,” Battaglia wrote.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who argued the case on behalf of the state, said the issue before the Maryland court was straightforward.
“The question was purely a legal one,” he said. “It was not that complicated of a case.”
James B. Hopewell, Williams’ lawyer, was disappointed by the opinion.
“We believe the law strongly supported our position,” said Hopewell, a Riverdale solo practitioner. “My client should not be prosecuted and criminalized for something that is not a crime.”
Williams bought his handgun legally from a licensed dealer in August 2007 but had not applied for a permit, according to the opinion. He had no prior criminal record, Hopewell said.
Two months later, a Prince George’s County police officer saw Williams searching a backpack near the woods, according to the opinion. Williams told the officer he had hidden his gun in the bushes, and he was arrested for unlawful gun possession.
Williams was convicted in October 2008 and sentenced to three years in prison with all but one year suspended. His sentence had been on hold while his appeals were being heard, although Hopewell said Wednesday he did not know when Williams would begin serving time.
The Court of Special Appeals affirmed Williams’ conviction in October 2009.
Battaglia dismissed Williams’ claim that McDonald extends Second Amendment rights outside the home. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment protects “most notably” self-defense within the home, a point Hopewell seized on in oral arguments.
“Although Williams attempts to find succor in this dicta, it is clear that prohibition of firearms in the home was the gravamen of the certiorari questions in both Heller and McDonald and their answers,” the judge wrote. “If the Supreme Court, in this dicta, meant its holding to extend beyond home possession, it will need to say so more plainly.”
Said Hopewell: “It sort of seemed they were trying to kick this case up to the Supreme Court.”
Gansler disagreed, but said he would not be surprised if future cases before the Supreme Court challenge local and state gun laws.
“I think there will be other cases coming down the road regarding the scope of the Second Amendment,” he said.
Judge Joseph F. Murphy, in a concurring opinion, objected to Battaglia using the phrase “outside the scope of the Second Amendment,” writing that the Second Amendment is “‘satisfied’ by a statute that places reasonable restrictions on the constitutional right to bear arms.”
WHAT THE COURT HELD
Charles Francis Williams Jr. v. State of Maryland, No. 16, Sept. Term 2010. Opinion by Battaglia, J. Murphy, J. concurs. Filed Jan. 5, 2011.
Does Maryland’s gun law restricting possession outside the home conflict with recent Supreme Court rulings regarding the scope of the Second Amendment?
No; the Supreme Court rulings deal with gun possession inside the home, which the Maryland restriction does not implicate.
James B. Hopewell for petitioner; Douglas F. Gansler for respondent.
RecordFax#11-0105-20 (27 pages)