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Despite appeal, Maryland must change handgun permit law

The state has two weeks to change its handgun-permit process, under a ruling by the same U.S. District Court judge who found the current law violates the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

In March, Judge Benson E. Legg ruled that the state law requiring applicants to show “good and substantial reason” to carry a gun is overly broad and not “reasonably adapted” to the state’s substantial interest in ensuring public safety.

However, the state appealed that decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a temporary stay was put in effect.

Late Monday, Legg denied the state’s effort to extend the stay until the appellate court has heard the case. Instead, he found the state had not established that continuing the stay would be in the public interest.

The ruling gives the state 14 days to make the change.

“The ruling is under review and the state is considering the options,” said David Paulson, a spokesman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.

The underlying lawsuit was filed by Hampstead resident Raymond Woollard in July 2010 against the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board. Woollard, an honorably discharged Navy veteran, was not allowed to renew his handgun permit in 2009.

Initially, the review board rejected Woollard’s permit under a section of the Public Safety Article, which requires applicants to show “good and substantial reason to wear, carry, or transport a handgun, such as a finding that the permit is necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger.”

Woollard had first obtained his permit in 2002 after fending off an intruder in his home, but could not establish that he had been subject to further threats outside his residence.

Woollard’s lawyer, Cary J. Hansel III of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake PA in Greenbelt, said he expected the ruling in light of Legg’s decision that the statute was unconstitutional.

“It would have been remarkable if a court would allow for a statute deemed unconstitutional to remain in force,” he said. “Our view is that once it’s been declared unconstitutional it’s a foregone conclusion, almost, that it shouldn’t be enforced.”

Legg ruled in March that gun ownership is a right implicit in the U.S. Constitution and the state should have to show why an applicant should not get a permit instead of requiring them to show why they deserve one.

“It’s not really a right at all if you have to [give] the government a good and substantial reason — that eviscerates the right,” Hansel said.

Carving out the substantial-reason requirement in the next 14 days does not impose an “onerous” burden on the state because all the other requirements for a handgun permit remain in place, he said.

“Even after this ruling we have one of the most restrictive standards in the country,” Hansel said.

The Bellevue, Wash.-based Second Amendment Foundation, which supports gun rights, is also a party to the lawsuit. Alan M. Gottlieb, executive vice president of the foundation, said he was happy with the ruling.

While he hopes the state will go ahead and change the law now, Gottlieb said, he would not be shocked if the attorney general files a motion for a stay with the 4th Circuit in the wake of Legg’s decision.

“We are kind of expecting that,” Gottlieb said. “Maryland has been fighting this kicking and screaming the entire time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to.”