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Md. gun permit law stands in Supreme Court

Steve Lash//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//October 15, 2013

Md. gun permit law stands in Supreme Court

By Steve Lash

//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

//October 15, 2013

The Supreme Court has decided not to hear a challenge to Maryland’s handgun permit law.

The justices on Tuesday let stand, without comment, a lower court decision upholding the constitutionality of the law requiring applicants for handgun permits to state a “good and substantial reason” to carry the firearm.

The Second Amendment Foundation and a U.S. Navy veteran from Hampstead had challenged the law, arguing that it places an unlawful burden on individuals seeking to exercise their Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.” The statute also impermissibly gives law enforcement broad discretion to reject a permit request under the vague standard of “good and substantial reason,” the Bellevue, Wash.-based foundation and veteran Raymond Woollard’s attorney wrote in papers filed with the high court.

A constitutional right should not require “a special dispensation from the police,” they added in their unsuccessful request that the Supreme Court hear its appeal of a lower court ruling that upheld the law.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler had urged the justices not to hear the foundation’s appeal of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision.

“We applaud today’s Supreme Court action that upholds Maryland law and reaffirms the judgment of the General Assembly that carrying handguns in public without a good and substantial reason poses a unique safety risk to residents,” Gansler said in a statement. “This makes Maryland a safer place for families to live and work and allows protections for those individuals who demonstrate the need.”

But Cary J. Hansel III, Woollard’s attorney, said supporters of the law should not view the court’s refusal without comment to hear the appeal as an endorsement of the statute’s constitutionality.

“These [constitutional] issues really remain undecided at the Supreme Court level,” said Hansel, of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake P.A. in Greenbelt. “The Supreme Court decides not to take cases for a wide variety of reasons.”

This Supreme Court’s denial of review can more accurately be viewed as “both sides winning to fight another day,” Hansel added.

However, he said, that next case might have to be brought by someone other than Woollard.

“If a fundamental right can be taken away because you can’t state a good and substantial reason, that’s not a world I want to live in,” Hansel said. “It’s not a guns issue. It’s a constitutional rights issue.”

The 4th Circuit, in its decision, overturned U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg’s March 2012 ruling that the law was unconstitutionally broad and not reasonably adapted to Maryland’s substantial interest in ensuring public safety.

The lawsuit challenging the requirement was filed in July 2010, after the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board turned down Woollard’s request to renew his permit to carry a gun he bought in 2002.

Woollard obtained the gun after his son-in-law broke into his home on a remote farm to steal car keys to drive to Baltimore to buy drugs.

When Woollard tried to renew the carry permit in 2010, he was turned down because he lacked a “good and substantial reason.”

The permit review board denied the renewal because Woollard, a party to the foundation’s appeal, had not had contact with his son-in-law for seven years and did not provide documentation showing he was being threatened outside his residence, according to the 4th Circuit’s opinion.

The son-in-law, Kris Lee Abbott, was found dead at his home in Hampstead last month. Police said he committed suicide after a domestic dispute in which he reportedly pushed his estranged wife and beat his parents with a pipe.

The Supreme Court case was Woollard et al. v. Gallagher et al., No. 13-42.


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