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NRA supports Supreme Court challenge to Md. handgun law

The National Rifle Association has backed a Maryland gun rights group’s appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing the state handgun permit law’s requirement that applicants provide the state with a “good and substantial reason” to carry a handgun outside the home violates the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

In papers filed with the justices Monday, the NRA said the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals misinterpreted the Second Amendment’s “text, history, and tradition” in holding that a state can bar law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns if they cannot show more than a general desire to protect themselves when they are away from home.

The NRA submitted its filing in support of the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association’s request that the Supreme Court review and overturn the 4th Circuit’s decision upholding the state’s permit law.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office, which has until Dec. 18 to respond to the state association’s request, has defended the law’s permit requirement as necessary to protect public safety — an argument that has won in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore and in the 4th Circuit in April.

The Supreme Court has not stated when it will vote on the MSRPA’s request for review. The case is docketed at the high court as Brian Kirk Malpasso and Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. William M. Pallozzi, Superintendent, Maryland State Police, No. 19-423.

In its Supreme Court filing, the NRA stated that federal appeals courts are divided on whether states can require a good and substantial reason for possessing a handgun outside the home – a split the group said demands resolution by the justices.

“The time has come for this (Supreme) Court to definitively answer whether the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home, and, in doing so, end the contemptuous disregard shown by a handful of circuits to this court’s Second Amendment teachings,” wrote John Parker Sweeney, the NRA’s counsel of record before the justices. “This court should resolve that trend by confirming that laws prohibiting law-abiding, responsible citizens from carrying arms outside the home must be assessed under the Second Amendment’s text, history, and tradition, and that this analysis compels the conclusion that those laws are unconstitutional.”

The Supreme Court has held that law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right to keep handguns in their homes for self-protection without needing to provide a justification.

Two federal appeals courts — covering Washington, D.C., Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin — have ruled that the justices’ 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller extends outside the home. But four appellate courts — covering Maryland, the Northeast, Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas — have concluded that states may constitutionally require handgun permit applicants to provide a good and substantial reason.

“Because the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Circuits have refused to faithfully apply this court’s Second Amendment precedent to uphold ‘good reason’ restrictions, tens of millions of law-abiding, responsible Americans are prohibited from exercising their fundamental right to carry arms outside their homes for self-defense in violation of the Second Amendment,” wrote Sweeney, of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP in Washington.

“These prohibitions unconstitutionally restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens in some of our largest and most dangerous metropolitan areas (Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Newark),” Sweeney added. “American citizens’ freedom to effectively defend themselves by carrying a handgun is not limited to their homes. The freedom is a fundamental, constitutional right guaranteed to all ‘the people’ that cannot be allowed to depend upon the politics of the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.”

The Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association is joined in the Supreme Court appeal by Brian Malpasso, who has been described by his lawyers as a law-abiding Mechanicsville resident who completed firearms training and criminal background checks but who was nevertheless denied a handgun carry permit by the Maryland State Police. The state police said Malpasso did not provide a good and substantial reason for carrying a gun in public, such as evidence of any concrete, present fear for his safety, Malpasso’s lawyers stated in earlier court filings.

U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander upheld the state police’s denial of Malpasso’s permit application and the 4th Circuit affirmed, prompting the appeal to the Supreme Court.

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