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Md. handgun permit restrictions for business owners eased

Business owners in Maryland who have permits to wear and carry a handgun apparently will be able to carry their weapons outside of business-related functions.

The Maryland State Police began notifying permit holders of the change Monday, one attorney who represents permit applicants said. The decision to drop the restrictions on business owners eliminates a major complaint — and a large number of appeals — of some permit holders who worried the restrictions were confusing and could result in being jailed for carrying a weapon outside of what their permits allow.

Ed Hershon, an attorney who has represented permit holders before the state Handgun Permit Review Board, said five clients have told him in the last 24 hours that they received calls from the Maryland State Police. In each case, the permit holders were told that restrictions limiting carrying a weapon to and from the office and while transacting business were being lifted.

In one case, a permit holder who was appealing the state police-imposed restrictions to the review board was told an Aug. 12 hearing had been canceled and the restrictions lifted, according to Hershon.

“This is a very limited change that applies only to business owners who have permits,” said Hershon.

A spokesman for the Maryland State Police confirmed the policy shift Tuesday afternoon.

The announcement was met with concern by advocates of tougher gun laws.

“This does nothing to help us and it only proves there is an attempt to unravel all the hard work advocates have done to make our communities safer,” said Liz Banach, executive director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.

Banach and her organization monitor meetings of the Handgun Permit Review Board and appeals that go before the panel. She said she sees the change as a first step in moving the state to a more permissive state for carrying guns.

“I’ve sat in those meetings,” said Banach. “I’ve heard all the arguments. Those individuals know the arguments they need to make. I question the validity of them.”

Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the department, said the policy change went into effect late Monday and eliminates “the previous restriction imposed on handgun carry permits of ‘valid only while conducting business’ for those individuals who are business owners and have a valid carry permit.”

Employees who may have a carry permit and have the restriction will not be able to have it removed.

Shipley said that the change does not alter the state’s “good and substantial” requirement for obtaining a carry permit.

“This reevaluation does not alleviate business owners from the requirement that they demonstrate they are engaged in business activities that establish a good and substantial reason, required by law, for the issuance of a handgun carry permit,” Shipley said in his statement. “However, it has been determined that the good and substantial reason for business owners who engage in these types of activities exists at all times, due to their unique relationship to the business. Therefore, the circumstance-based restriction of ‘while conducting business’ for documented business owners has been eliminated.”

The change in the policy does not require the approval of the legislature.

Existing permit holders who own businesses must apply for a modification to have the restriction removed. Information for that process is on the state police website.

Shipley said the state police are working with the  Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to determine how many appeals involve the restrictions on business owners.

“If they fall within the scope of the change made, the licensing division will be working with the applicant to address the issue,” said Shipley.

Permit holders have repeatedly complained that the restrictions are complicated, confusing and expose otherwise law-abiding gun owners to possible arrest and loss of their permits.

“The 2013 Firearm Safety Act criminalized carrying a firearm outside of the restrictions,” said Hershon, adding that permit holders grew concerned they would be arrested, forfeiting their permits and in some cases risking their professional licenses as a result of a criminal conviction.

Restrictions on permits imposed by the state police on applicants appear to drive the number of appeals that come before the Handgun Permit Review Board.

At a meeting of the board Monday night a number of permit holders complained about the restrictions.

The large number of appeals caught the attention of advocates for tighter restrictions on guns as well as Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly.

“I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to where this change is coming from except that during the legislative session we pointed this out repeatedly to the Judicial Proceedings and Judiciary committees,” Hershon said.

Shipley, in an email, acknowledged there was an issue with the restriction.

“A recurring issue before the Handgun Permit Review Board and the Office of Administrative Hearings involved business owners and what constituted when they were conducting business and when they were not,” said Shipley. “An employee usually has set hours of work.  This was not nearly as defined for business owners, who are always the owners and could be involved in their business operations at any time.  (State Police Superintendent) Colonel (William) Pallozzi and the licensing division command staff felt this needed to be clarified and the restrictions for business owners removed. ”

In the 12 months prior to lawmakers taking up legislation, the board voted 222 times to alter a state police decision. Of those, 145 removed modifications or restrictions — about 65 percent of the cases. In another 77 cases the board reversed a decision by the police, according to figures released by the permit review board.

The legislature passed a bill abolishing the board, sending any appeals to an administrative law judge. Lawmakers also rejected three of Gov. Larry Hogan’s appointees to the panel.

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill in May. He has since named three new appointees to the board, which meets every Monday in an attempt to clear a backlog of appeals.


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