Maryland could see a surge in applications for wear and carry gun permits as a result of last month’s Supreme Court ruling and an executive order from Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday eliminating the state’s key requirement for granting those permits.
The governor’s order follows a ruling two weeks ago by the U.S. Supreme Court that has energized both sides of the gun debate.
Legislative Democrats vow Maryland will join other states enacting a patchwork of hastily crafted laws that attempt to address the new ruling. Advocates estimate as many as 100,000 Marylanders could apply for the license.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand out there,” said Mark Pennak, an attorney and president of the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue.
Hogan, a second-term Republican, ordered the Maryland State Police to stop requiring proof of a “good and substantial reason” for issuing a wear and carry license.
Hogan Tuesday ordered the Maryland State Police to suspend its use of the “good and substantial reason” standard when reviewing wear and carry applications. The order follows a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a similar provision in New York that the governor called “virtually indistinguishable” from Maryland’s law.
“In light of the ruling and to ensure compliance with the Constitution, I am directing the Maryland State Police to immediately suspend utilization of the ‘good and substantial reason’ standard when reviewing applications for wear and carry permits,” said Hogan in a statement. “It would be unconstitutional to continue enforcing this provision in state law. There is no impact on other permitting requirements and protocols.”
Pennak estimates the Maryland State Police could receive 100,000 new requests.
Roughly 750 people were denied a wear and carry permit in Maryland last year for failure to meet the state’s “good and substantial reason” requirement, according to Pennak. In an email, a state police spokesperson said the agency could not provide information on the number of wear and carry permits applied for over the last three years or the number that had been denied for failing to meet the good and substantial reason requirement.
“I can only provide you with the most current data indicating the number of active Handgun Permits as of July 1, 2022: 39,797,” the spokesperson wrote.
Pennak’s estimate of new applications is backed up by a recent analysis by the Department of Legislative Services. That review estimated an increase of 100,000 new handgun permits based on surges in recent sales.
Analysts assumed Maryland would see a similar increase in permit requests as Wisconsin did a decade ago. That state reported 99,000 new wear and carry applications after that state changed its law.
Del. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, downplayed the analyst report of a bill that came through his committee. The chairman said the Wisconsin law may not be “comparing apples to apples.”
“I don’t know if there will be 100,000 applications,” said Clippinger. “We don’t know what the numbers actually will be. All I can say is it’s definitely going to be an issue we take up in 2023.”
Already some legislative leaders are vowing a response.
“Between now and January the Maryland House of Delegates will look at every option to curb the proliferation of guns on the street. As the Highland Park and Philadelphia shootings have shown us – more guns do not make us safer,” House Speaker Adrienne Jones said. “We will pass meaningful and reasonable limitations to ensure the safety of our families and children.”
Similarly, Senate President Bill Ferguson vowed passage of new laws “that adheres to the new precedent set by this Supreme Court while ensuring reasonable restrictions to keep our families and communities safe.”
Neither offered specifics.
Clippinger and Sen. Will Smith, D-Montgomery and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, have spoken together by phone to discuss the court ruling and how Maryland might respond.
Smith was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Clippinger, in an interview, said lawmakers will review legislative responses to the Supreme Court ruling in California and New Jersey.
“We need to carefully and thoughtfully consider how the regulations related to conceal carry can be put in place in light of the Supreme Court ruling to ensure that we avoid, to the extent that we can, giving concealed carry permits to people who have an objective reason not to have those permits,” Clippinger said.
Clippinger is already leading a work group on laws that will need to be passed if voters approve adult-use recreational cannabis. He would not rule out a second election-year work group on gun laws.
“I think for now, we’re going to continue those conversations,” said Clippinger. “We’re going to look at what other states are doing that are impacted by the Supreme Court decision and we’re going to gather some more information as to how other states that have shall issue standards regulate permits for concealed carry.”
Shortly after Hogan’s announcement, the Maryland State Police posted a notice on its website that its licensing portal was being updated to reflect the governor’s order. Applicants would no longer be required to provide documentation to justify a “good and substantial reason.”
The website cautioned that the change does not eliminate the need for a permit to wear and carry or other requirements.
In Maryland, an applicant must be at least 21 years old and resident of the state and not otherwise be prohibited from owning a gun. The law requires 16 hours of firearms safety training and proficiency on a firing range. The requirement is in addition to those needed for a handgun qualification license. Applicants must also provide fingerprints, at their expense.
Not every state is expanding gun laws. Some are tightening restrictions.
The New York Legislature called a special session and passed legislation that requires 16 hours of in-person training plus two hours of a firing range course. The new law also contains a controversial provision that raises questions about its compatibility with the First Amendment.
The new law in New York now requires applicants to provide four character references as well as a list of social media accounts used by the applicant in the previous three years.
Neighboring New Jersey passed legislation Tuesday that imposes stricter training requirements for gun owners, bans .50-caliber weapons and requires state residents to register guns purchased outside the state.
Pennak warned that efforts in Maryland and other states to circumvent the right-leaning Supreme Court’s ruling may also fail because of a new legal test advanced by Justice Clarence Thomas in his majority opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al. v. Bruen.
Thomas asserted that states going forward “must affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms.”
“To the extent that Maryland wants to be George Wallace and stand in the Second Amendment doorway, they’re going to face a lot of challenges,” said Pennak.
The Supreme Court ruling came as Maryland’s law was already facing a third challenge in federal court. Maryland Shall Issue is appealing a lower court ruling that the licensing requirement is constitutional because it is reasonably related to the state’s interest in protecting public safety.
Opponents of the provision argue that the requirement sets a standard that makes it almost impossible for anyone to obtain a wear and carry permit. These restrictions eased a bit under an appeals board that was appointed by the governor. The Democratic-led majority in the General Assembly abolished the board in 2020.
“Today’s action is in line with actions taken in other states in response to the recent ruling,” said Hogan.
Myles Hicks, Executive Director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said the Supreme Court ruling and Hogan’s order “puts many lives in danger” and will lead to more violence.
“More guns in more spaces only leads to more violence,” said Hicks. “Marylanders to Prevent Gun violence will continue working to keep our communities safe by codifying where guns are and are not allowed, strengthening the wear and carry permitting system, fortifying training and storage requirements, and increasing funding for violence intervention and prevention programs.”