A federal appeals court has upheld an Anne Arundel County law requiring gun dealers to distribute suicide prevention and conflict resolution literature.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on Tuesday rejected an appeal by a gun rights group and four store owners of a 2022 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher stating the county could have the requirement.
The ruling was written by Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, who was appointed to the federal bunch by former President Ronald Reagan and elevated by former President George H.W. Bush. It was joined by Judge Robert L. Gregory, who received a recess appointment from President Bill Clinton before being nominated by President George W. Bush, and Judge Toby J. Heytens, a nominee of President Joe Biden.
“I am thrilled that [the] Fourth Circuit’s decision will allow Anne Arundel County to confront two serious crises in our communities: gun violence and firearm suicide,” said Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien, the lead sponsor on the measure. “Information is a powerful tool, and the county can now get information into the right hands at the time it may be needed most.”
The County Council unanimously approved the measure in January 2022. The county health department is responsible for issuing the pamphlets containing resource options, such as a suicide hotline phone number, gun safety tips, and information on gun locks, according to the Capital Gazette.
In May 2022, Maryland Shall Issue, the state’s leading gun rights group, and four gun store owners in Glen Burnie, Pasadena and Millersville, sued the county. They claimed the county law requiring them to hand out suicide prevention and conflict resolution pamphlets to gun purchasers violated their First Amendment rights.
Last March, Judge Gallagher, who was nominated by President Donald Trump after her nomination by President Barack Obama expired, found that the county could have the requirement.
“Ultimately, this case is not about limiting gun ownership or stigmatizing firearms,” she wrote. “This case is about the correlative link between access to firearms and the risk of suicide or violent conflict resolution, and about the County’s ability to take reasonable steps to mitigate that risk. Because the County’s actions do not infringe Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, summary judgment in the County’s favor is warranted.”
Most than half of all firearm deaths in the United States are suicides according to USA Facts.
“Anne Arundel County has led jurisdictions across the country in addressing gun violence as the public health crisis that it is,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Our Gun Violence Intervention Team, modeled after our Opioid Intervention Team, is working within the law to educate, intervene, and prevent the shootings that have become the number one cause of death for young Americans.”
Maryland Shall Issue plans to appeal the Circuit Court’s ruling and it may go to the Supreme Court. The group can seek a rehearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2022 limited what government can do to restrict guns.
The appeals court decision “is wrong under the First Amendment and wrong as a matter of fact,” said Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue. He argues that compelled speech violates the First Amendment.