Less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a New York law requiring people to show that they had a special need for self-defense to obtain a concealed-carry permit was unconstitutional, Gov. Larry Hogan issued a directive to the Maryland State Police.
He ordered the department to stop enforcing the state requirement that people demonstrate that they had a “good and substantial reason” to receive a wear and carry permit.
That’s because that provision in Maryland, he said, was “virtually indistinguishable” from the law in New York.
“It would be unconstitutional to continue enforcing this provision in state law,” Hogan said.
Here’s how the ruling has been playing out in Maryland:
How many people have applied for wear and carry permits?
The number of new applications for wear and carry permits has skyrocketed.
From June 23-July 11, people submitted 5,314 new applications for wear and carry permits, said Elena Russo, a spokesperson for the Maryland State Police, in an email. That’s about a 772.6% increase from the same time last year.
People are still required to obtain a permit to wear, carry and transport a handgun in public.
They must meet all other requirements, which include paying a $75 fee, undergoing a background check and completing an approved firearms training course in the last two years.
Laws prohibiting people from carrying handguns in certain places such as schools remain in effect.
What does this mean for pending criminal cases?
The opinion deals with licensing for concealed-carry permits “but not the firearms-related crimes that we see in our courthouse,” Prince George’s County Principal Deputy State’s Attorney Jason Abbott said.
If part of a statute is unconstitutional, he said, that does not mean the rest of the law is unconstitutional. Abbott said the ruling “doesn’t affect our ability to prosecute people from being prohibited from carrying firearms.”
Meanwhile, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said his office will drop charges of wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun without a permit against people who could not get a license solely because they did not meet the “good and substantial reason” standard.
McCarthy said he believes it would be unfair to prosecute those individuals. He said he feels confident that’s going to affect “a pretty small number” of cases.
In Baltimore County, Assistant State’s Attorney Allan Webster, chief of the Firearms Unit, said he expects the opinion to affect the application and review process for wear and carry permits more than pending cases — if any at all.
He said he hasn’t yet seen the issue reach the courtroom.
Webster said he can envision a scenario in which law enforcement filed charges of wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun without a permit against those who had a valid license but violated the restrictions on it. For instance, people who were only allowed to carry for work.
He said he’d review those matters — if they exist — on a case-by-case basis.
“We want to be fair to those citizens who are allowed to carry guns,” Webster said. “Being equitable and fair, I think, is the same point that I think any state’s attorney would want to do — in prosecuting cases in general.”
The public needs to know the ruling does not mean that it’s “open season” and that people can “run around willy-nilly with guns,” said Howard County State’s Attorney Rich Gibson Jr., who serves as president of the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association.
“We will enforce our laws fully,” Gibson said. “There’s no change in regard to that here.”
Gibson described the number of cases that the opinion affects as “so infinitesimally small, it’s almost not worth mentioning.” But defense attorneys, he expects, will use the opinion to make creative arguments. That’s their job.
“I believe that people will try to throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, proverbially speaking,” said Gibson, who emphasized that he meant no disrespect.
“We are very confident in our assessment of what the law says,” he added. “The court was very explicit. We believe that judges would see the ruling quite clearly for what it is.”
Are defense attorneys using the new precedent to try to dismiss criminal cases?
Yes, but it’s unclear how many challenges defense attorneys have filed statewide.
In one case in Baltimore Circuit Court, Assistant Public Defender Isabel Lipman filed a motion to dismiss an indictment against a man, 43, of Woodbourne Heights, whom police arrested in 2020 after reportedly finding a handgun beneath his feet in a park.
He was charged with offenses including illegal possession of a regulated firearm.
Lipman argued that the statutes her client was charged under conflicted with the Second Amendment. That’s because, she said, “there is no sufficient historical tradition of banning firearm possession by drug felons.”
In the 6-3 opinion issued on June 23, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Constitution protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home. The court applied a test examining if modern regulations are consistent with the textual and historical understanding of the Second Amendment.
Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Pillion successfully defended against the motion.
Pillion cited a recent, precedential opinion from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which ruled against a man with a prior conviction for criminal contempt for failure to pay child support who had challenged his prosecution for illegal possession of a regulated firearm.
He was not a “law-abiding citizen,” the panel held, so his “conduct fell outside the scope protected by the Second Amendment.”
Pillion said the high court’s opinion solely dealt with New York’s rules for issuing concealed-carry permits. He acknowledged that the ruling is “so new and untested that the precise contours of its reasoning have not been elucidated by appellate courts.”
Though there’s no exact historical precedent for barring people with certain convictions from possessing firearms, Pillion argued, the government in the past banned groups it believed could not be trusted with them for public safety reasons.
“In this instance, Maryland’s legislature determined that conviction for a drug felony was serious enough that it should be included within the state’s disarmament scheme along with those convicted of violent crimes like murder,” Pillion wrote in his 14-page response.
Meanwhile, in another case in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, Assistant Public Defender Jeffrey Campbell successfully litigated a motion to dismiss on behalf of a man, 23, of District Heights, who’d been facing charges of wearing, carrying or transporting a handgun without a permit.
Campbell argued that the statute itself was now unconstitutional.
In an email, Melissa Rothstein, a spokesperson for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, said it is actively working to apply the new ruling to cases.
“The Supreme Court has made clear the breadth of the Second Amendment’s constitutional right,” Rothstein said. “We are committed to ensuring that it is applied equally, and that our clients’ rights are protected.”
Rothstein said the issue has been raised already in a few cases outside Baltimore. She said she expects assistant public defenders to soon file more motions in the city.
In a tweet, House Speaker Adrienne Jones, D-Baltimore County, wrote that the Maryland House of Delegates “will look at every option to curb the proliferation of guns on the street” between now and the start of the next legislative session.
Meanwhile, Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore, issued a statement in which he wrote that the Maryland General Assembly will pass legislation next session that addresses the new precedent while “ensuring reasonable restrictions to keep our families and communities safe.”
“Now more than ever in history, we must pass laws protecting all Marylanders from potential gun violence,” Ferguson said. “The lethality of the weapons available for purchase has never been greater, and our laws must accurately reflect their danger.”
The Supreme Court seems to lay out a standard that can be used to challenge gun control regulations, which is that states need to find a similar rule from the 1700s or 1800s to one that they wish to impose in the 21st century, said Michael Meyerson, a constitutional law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Meyerson said he believes it’s almost as if the court is allowing itself the freedom to strike down any gun law — because that standard is so unclear. But he said there’s a lot that’s unknown.
“We don’t know where the court will go,” Meyerson said. “We don’t know how aggressive the court will be in striking down other laws.”