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4th Circuit holds challenge to Md. handgun permit law, awaits high court ruling

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett, No. 20-843, during its 2021-2022 term that begins in October. The justices are expected to issue their decision by June 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett, No. 20-843, during its 2021-2022 term that begins in October. The justices are expected to issue their decision by June 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

A decision on the constitutionality of Maryland’s requirement that handgun permit applicants provide the state with a “good and substantial reason” to carry the weapon outside the home must await a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a similar challenge from New York pending before the justices, a federal appeals court said Monday.

In a one-page order, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a challenge by gun rights advocates to Maryland’s handgun permit law will be held “in abeyance” pending the high court’s decision on whether New York’s discretionary denial of concealed carry licenses violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The 4th Circuit issued its order at the request of both the gun rights advocates and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who has defended the state’s required good and substantial justification for being armed outside. In their request to the 4th Circuit, both sides recognized the similarity between the issue in the Maryland litigation and in the New York case that the justices last month agreed to hear.

The Supreme Court’s action followed its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right to keep handguns in their homes for self-protection without needing to provide a justification.

However, the justices have yet to rule on whether that right to self-defense extends outside the home or whether states, like Maryland and New York, may limit handgun possession to applicants able to show a good and substantial reason for being armed outside, such as clear evidence of viable death threats against them.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett, No. 20-843, during its 2021-2022 term that begins in October. The justices are expected to issue their decision by June 2022.

“The Corlett case will probably resolve the question,” said attorney Mark W. Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, a gun rights group challenging Maryland’s law.

“This should decide whether the right extends outside the home and whether self-defense is good enough,” Pennak added Tuesday. “We’re delighted that the court took Corlett.”

But Frosh defended the constitutionality of requiring a good and substantial reason for carrying handguns outside, saying “all you have to do is read the newspapers” and their articles about gun violence in American cities.

Restrictions “are important for law and order,” Frosh said Tuesday.

“It’s just a terrible idea to have everyone walking the streets with concealed weapons,” he added. “People walking around with guns are more likely to resolve disputes by pulling out the guns. That’s not healthy.”

The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association was granted the Supreme Court review that the justices have denied Maryland gun rights advocates twice in the past eight years.

In 2013, the Supreme Court let stand without comment the 4th Circuit’s published decision earlier that year in Woollard v. Gallagher that Maryland’s required good and substantial justification for possession outside the home was “reasonably adapted to Maryland’s significant interests in protecting public safety and preventing crime.”

In 2019, gun rights advocates mounted what they acknowledged to be a Supreme Court challenge to the 4th Circuit’s Woollard decision. But the justices last June again denied their petition for review without comment in the case, Brian Kirk Malpasso et al. v. Woodrow W. “Jerry” Jones III, Maryland secretary of state police, No. 19-423.

The advocates mounted their current challenge in federal district court on Nov. 13, a little more than two weeks after Amy Coney Barrett — widely viewed as receptive to Second Amendment arguments – was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice following the Sept. 18 death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had endorsed gun control.

Senior U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow dismissed the challenge in March, citing Woollard. The advocates then sought review by the 4th Circuit, where the challenge now sits in abeyance.

The case is docketed at the 4th Circuit as Eric Call et al. v. Woodrow W. “Jerry” Jones III, Maryland secretary of state police, No. 21-1334.

Federal appeals courts are split on the breadth of the Supreme Court’s Heller decision.

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 for carrying the weapon outside the home. But two federal appeals courts — covering Washington, D.C., Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin — have ruled that the 2nd Amendment right defined in Heller extends beyond the home.


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