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Editorial: Good and substantial reason

Kris Lee Abbot was a dangerous man. Any dispute about that was put to rest last month, when he pushed his wife, used a pipe to beat his parents and then headed to his own home, where, police say, he shot and killed himself.

More than a decade earlier, Mr. Abbot had broken into his father-in-law’s farmhouse, looking for car keys so he could drive to Baltimore to buy drugs.

That incident constituted a “good and substantial reason” for the father-in-law, a Navy veteran named Raymond Woollard, to carry a handgun, and he received a permit to do so in 2002.

But, after more than seven years had passed without any contact between the two men, the state declined to renew Mr. Woollard’s permit.

The 2010 nonrenewal sparked a constitutional battle — one the Supreme Court decided it wanted no part of this week.

The question posed by Mr. Woollard and the Second Amendment Foundation was whether Maryland can force its citizens to show a “good and substantial reason” to carry a handgun outside the home. (The justices had ruled in 2008 that there is a constitutional right to have a gun at home.)

A federal appeals court upheld the law, and the Supreme Court let that decision stand.

On Tuesday, Mr. Woollard’s attorney cautioned against reading too much into the high court’s refusal to hear the case, categorizing it as an instance of both sides living to fight another day.

However, this was the second time in less than a year that the court had backed away from the same question. In April, the justices refused to hear a challenge out of New York, which requires applicants to show “proper cause” to believe they need a gun for self-defense away from home.

And the justices rejected both cases even though other federal courts have ruled the other way, creating a split that would be reason enough for the court to decide the issue if it wanted.

Under the circumstances, then, the court’s inaction appears to be less of a draw than a win for the “good and substantial reason” standard. And the outcome is a clear win for state officials and law enforcement, who see it as a matter of public safety.

The Supreme Court’s inaction also should give the state some comfort over the round of gun-licensing requirements that took effect Oct. 1, although Mr. Woollard’s case does not address those changes.

On the other hand, Mr. Abbot’s aggression toward his wife and parents and his subsequent suicide should make the state anything but comfortable.

In this case, the criteria worked as intended: Mr. Abbot was a danger primarily to himself, not to Mr. Woollard. Still, Mr. Abbot was a dangerous man with a gun.

In the wake of his suicide and the Supreme Court’s inaction, Maryland’s officials and citizens alike should be asking themselves, at a minimum, just what constitutes a good and substantial reason to carry a gun. The Second Amendment Foundation would take the question to a more fundamental level, asking whether “may issue” laws like Maryland’s should give way to “shall issue” laws, in which the burden is on the state to show why it should infringe the right to bear arms.

While Mr. Abbot has been laid to rest, those questions are still very much with us.