In a 2-1 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on Tuesday ruled that Maryland cannot enforce a law that requires people to get a license before they can buy a handgun.

People who want to purchase a handgun must obtain a handgun qualification license, or HQL, which requires them to submit fingerprints for a background investigation, complete a firearms safety training course and fill out an application.

Lawmakers passed the gun control regulation as part of the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, which came in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 20 children and six adults dead. The shooter, who killed himself as police closed in, had also fatally shot his mother at home earlier that day.

Here’s what you need to know:

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Why did the court strike down the requirement?

In a 21-page majority opinion, Judge Julius N. Richardson wrote that the challenge to the law must succeed because of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 2022 called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which held that a firearms regulation is unconstitutional unless the government can show it is consistent with the nation’s tradition.

“The challenged law restricts the ability of law-abiding adult citizens to possess handguns, and the state has not presented a historical analogue that justifies its restriction; indeed, it has seemingly admitted that it couldn’t find one,” Richardson wrote. “Under the Supreme Court’s new burden-shifting test for these claims, Maryland’s law thus fails, and we must enjoin its enforcement.”

Judge G. Steven Agee joined the majority opinion.

Meanwhile, Senior Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote a 20-page dissenting opinion, saying that the majority fundamentally misapplied the Bruen decision and took a “hyperaggressive view of the Second Amendment.”

Do I still need a handgun qualification license?


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The Maryland State Police, which administers handgun qualification licenses, issued an advisory stating that the law remains in effect. That’s because the ruling does not become effective until the court issues a mandate.

The agency reported that it will issue updates online and through advisories as soon as more information is available.

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When does the decision take effect?

It’s complicated — and it depends.

If Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown does not take any action, the decision will go into effect in seven days.

The state has 14 days to ask the three-judge panel and or the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to rehear the case. If the petition for rehearing is granted, the court will typically request further legal briefing and hold oral argument.

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The ruling would not take effect until seven days after the court disposes of the petition for rehearing.

The state also has 90 days to file a petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court but would have to separately seek relief to stay the mandate from taking effect.

“Right now, nothing has changed,” said Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, an organization that challenged the law in court and seeks to preserve and advance the rights of gun owners. “And nothing may change for quite some time.”

What’s next?

It’s not immediately clear.

“We are weighing options for next steps in this case, which prevents us from any further comment at this point,” said Jennifer Donelan, a spokesperson for the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, in a statement.

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Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, said in a statement that he would “continue to fight for this law,” adding that his team was also reviewing the opinion and evaluating their options.

Meanwhile, Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore, described the ruling in a statement as “crazy.” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, said in a statement, “We will review the opinion and consider all our options to protect Marylanders.”