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Gun group challenges Md. handgun licensing, cites Supreme Court decision

Armed with a favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a gun rights group this month resumed its challenge to Maryland’s licensing requirements for would-be handgun purchasers as an infringement on its constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

Maryland Shall Issue’s challenge to the handgun qualification license, or HQL, mandate had been held in abeyance at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pending the justices’ decision in a New York case addressing whether the Second Amendment provides a right to carry handguns outside one’s home without the owner having to show a good and substantial reason for carrying.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that gun restrictions are valid only if in keeping with the constitutional text, history and tradition of state firearm regulations when the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791 or when the 14th Amendment extended the right to keep and bear arms to the states in 1868.

The justices struck down the state regulation in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, saying New York could not show such a history or tradition of requiring gun permits.

In papers filed with the 4th Circuit, MSI said Maryland likewise cannot show a history or tradition of imposing a licensing requirement on handgun ownership, as licensure was not required until the 1900s.

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“It is indisputable both that violence involving handguns is a centuries-old societal problem and that there is no historical regulation distinctly similar to the HQL requirement,” MSI told the 4th Circuit.

“At the time of the founding, no training was required to acquire a handgun or other firearm,” added MSI, which was joined in the challenge by gun seller Atlantic Guns Inc. and two Marylanders. “Unlike the HQL requirement, militia training was not a prerequisite to firearm ownership. Instead, these militia laws required gun ownership prior to militia training.”

But Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said Thursday that he views the history of gun regulation differently.

“There is, of course, lots of history of states and the United States regulating who can own and carry weapons,” Frosh said. “What Maryland has done is impose reasonable regulations on who can own a handgun.”

Frosh has until Oct. 3 to submit the state’s response to MSI in the 4th Circuit.

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The appellate court has not stated when it will rule on MSI’s challenge. The case is docketed at the 4th Circuit as Maryland Shall Issue Inc. et al v. Lawrence Hogan et al., No. 21-2017.

Those challenging the licensing requirement are represented by MSI President Mark W. Pennak; Cary J. Hansel III, of Hansel Law PC in Baltimore; and John Parker Sweeney, of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP in Washington.

The 2013 Maryland Firearm Safety Act’s licensing requirement mandates that an applicant be at least 21 years old, be a Maryland resident, complete four hours of firearms safety training, and not be prohibited by federal or state law from buying or possessing a handgun. Licensed gun dealers, as well as current and retired law-enforcement and military officers, are exempt from the handgun licensing requirement.

A violation of the law is a misdemeanor punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander upheld the license requirement’s constitutionality last August, saying it was reasonably related to the state’s important interest in protecting public safety. MSI and its co-plaintiffs then sought review by the 4th Circuit.