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Senate panel weighs high court decision’s effect on gun control bills

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery filed a bill in the 2023 General Assembly that would ban gun possession within 100 feet of places of “public accommodation.” The bill has been heavily criticized by gun-rights advocates. (The Daily Record file photo / Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS – Amid a sharp increase in gun permit approvals, a Senate panel will soon consider controversial gun control legislation aimed at promoting public safety while trying to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s gun rights ruling from last June that spurred the rapid rise.

The Maryland State Police told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Tuesday that it has approved 80,000 permits allowing handgun owners to carry their weapons outside their home in the nearly seven months since the Supreme Court issued its decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen.

By contrast, the annual average permit approvals for the several years prior to the Bruen decision was between 13,000 and 14,000, meaning that the MSP has been handling every month what had been about a year supply of permit approvals.

In Bruen, the justices struck down a New York state regulation – similar to one in Maryland – that required gun owners to show a good and substantial reason for carrying their weapon outside.

The Supreme Court said 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 the states in 1868.

The high court said judges “can use analogies to those historical regulations of sensitive places to determine that modern regulations prohibiting the carry of firearms in new and analogous sensitive places are constitutionally permissible.”

The Supreme Court’s decision drew praise from gun rights advocate Mark W. Pennak, who cautioned the Senate committee against passing overly broad legislation.

In written testimony, Pennak criticized a bill introduced by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery and the Senate panel’s vice chair, which would ban gun possession within 100 feet of places of “public accommodation,” including stores, restaurants, places of worship, parks, libraries and hospitals.

The high court has been “quite specific” that there are only five “sensitive” places where gun possession can be banned: legislative assemblies, polling places, courthouses, schools and government buildings, Pennak said

“Once you get beyond that five, you are going to have to find an historic analog,” Pennak told the committee, adding that no historical analogs exist from banning gun possession near restaurants, places of worship, parks, libraries and hospitals.

Sen. William C. “Will” Smith Jr., D-Montgomery and chair of the panel, questioned whether laws banning gun possession in public parks would violate the Second Amendment and be susceptible to legal challenges.

“They do and I will bring them,” said Pennak, an attorney whose group, Maryland Shall Issue, is challenging in U.S. District Court a Montgomery County law that bans gun possession within 100 yards of a “place of public assembly.”

But Sam Levy, counsel for the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, told the Senate committee the Supreme Court in Bruen left open the question of whether and what other places may be statutorily marked as gun free zones based on historical analogs without violating the Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Levy said he anticipates it will take an uneasy five years at least before the courts decide where gun possession may be banned.

“It is a wrongly decided case,” Levy said of Bruen.

“It is the law of the land now,” he added. “The upshot is going to be more guns in more public places.”