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Supreme Court rejects challenge to Maryland handgun law

Beretta handguns for sale in 2013 at FreeState Gun Range in Middle River. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz - FILE)

Beretta handguns for sale at FreeState Gun Range in Middle River. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand without comment a lower court ruling upholding the Maryland handgun permit law’s requirement that applicants provide the state with a “good and substantial reason” to carry the weapon outside the home.

Gun-rights advocates had urged the justices to review and overturn the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, saying the requirement violates their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The 4th Circuit had upheld the requirement a promoting the state’s interest in protecting public safety.

The justices’ refusal to hear the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association’s appeal is just that and not a decision on the merits of the group’s argument. The case was docketed at the Supreme Court as Brian Kirk Malpasso and Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc. v. Woodrow W. “Jerry” Jones III, Maryland secretary of state police, No. 19-423.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said he is “very pleased” that the Supreme Court left the 4th Circuit’s decision undisturbed.

“It is an important public safety decision,” Frosh added. “It would be a dramatic reversal of policy if the Supreme Court should take it and change it.”

The Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 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’ District of Columbia v. Heller decision 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.

In its unsuccessful request for Supreme Court review, the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association argued that the Second Amendment right is fundamental and its exercise by law-abiding citizens outside their home cannot be restricted by the state, such as by requiring a would-be gun owner to have a good and substantial reason.

“As this (Supreme) Court held in Heller, the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms’ enshrines and protects at its core ‘the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,’” wrote Paul D. Clement, the association’s lead attorney and a U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush. “That holding is plainly inconsistent with a law that flatly prohibits typical, law-abiding citizens from carrying a handgun for self-defense outside the home unless they can demonstrate that they have a particularized ‘good and substantial reason’ that distinguishes them from the body of ‘the people’ protected by the Second Amendment.”

In successfully urging the justices not hear the appeal, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office wrote that the Second Amendment enables states to adopt a reasonable regulatory scheme” to ensure public safety.

Under Maryland’s good and substantial reason requirement, the state police may issue handgun permits to applicants who show they need the weapon for personal protection against a verifiable threat to their safety. The Maryland State Police has granted nearly 94% of the applications it has received from applicants citing such danger, according to the attorney general’s office.

“Compelling interests of public safety and prevention of crime have long led states to regulate the public carrying of concealed and easily concealable weapons, like handguns,” wrote Julia Doyle Bernhardt, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s litigation chief. “(M)aryland’s scheme is based on compelling interests of public safety and crime prevention, does not ban public carrying of handguns, and grants most applications for permits based on a need for self-protection.”

The Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association was joined in the Supreme Court appeal by Brian Malpasso, whom his lawyers have described as a law-abiding Mechanicsville resident who completed firearms training and criminal background checks but was nevertheless denied a handgun carry permit by the Maryland State Police. MSP said he 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 MSP’s denial of Malpasso’s permit application and the 4th Circuit affirmed.


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