The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday knocked down a New York requirement that gun owners show “good cause” to get a concealed gun permit — which could have implications on Maryland’s standard of “good and substantial reason.”
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said his team is examining the high court’s ruling to see how it affects the issuance of permits in Maryland, known legally as “wear and carry” permits here.
But Frosh, a Democrat, lamented the court’s ruling, saying it will make it too easy for people to carry guns, leading to more violence and death. The ruling follows high-profile mass shootings last month at a grocery store Buffalo and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas in which 10 people and 21 people, respectively, were killed.
“Today’s decision means more deaths and more pain in a country awash in gun violence,” Frosh said in a statement. “If the norm is that people can carry firearms, our streets and other public places will become more dangerous.”
The president of the state’s leading gun rights advocacy group thinks Maryland should immediately stop enforcing the “good and substantial reason” standard in light of the court’s ruling.
“‘Good and substantial reason’ is dead,” said Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue. “The Supreme Court just invalidated New York’s similar ‘good cause’ requirement. And there is no distinction between ‘good and and substantial reason’ and ‘good cause.’”
Pennak said it’s possible that the attorney general’s office will wait until the courts rule on another case that’s pending that specifically challenges Maryland’s requirements. But he hopes the attorney general’s office will reach a conclusion that Maryland’s law is no longer valid.
“They can read the handwriting on the wall as good as I can,” Pennak said.
In his statement, Frosh said: “We will examine today’s ruling to determine its impact in our state, and we will continue to fight to protect the safety of Marylanders.”
In Maryland, prospective handgun owners are required to undergo training and an extensive background check to obtain a handgun qualification license. Those who wish to carry their handgun with them on a regular basis must obtain a further wear and carry permit. Those are issued by the Maryland State Police, and among the criteria is proving that the handgun owner has a “good and substantial reason” to carry their gun.
Among those who have been issued unrestricted wear and carry permits, according to Pennak, are business owners and people at risk of attack or retribution, such as judges, politicians, prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers and those with top-secret government clearance. Gun owners who can demonstrate a need for self-protection — including people who have protective orders in place or who have reported threats to police — also can obtain a wear and carry permit, though they tend to have a tougher time proving their case, Pennak said.
People in certain lines of work, such as those in security or who carry cash, can be granted restricted permits that limit them to carrying their guns during work hours, Pennak said.
When the Maryland State Police deny a request for a wear and carry permit, the gun owner can appeal to a state administrative judge, though Pennak said they are rarely successful. That’s a change from a few years ago, when a special appeals board was so permissive in granting permits that state lawmakers abolished it.
Last year, 12,189 people applied for new wear and carry permits in Maryland and 6,242 people sought to renew their permits, according to the Maryland State Police. The police rejected 2,017 applicants last year.
In light of the Supreme Court ruling, Frosh’s team and state lawmakers should carefully review Maryland’s law to make sure it is as “close to bulletproof as possible,” said Michael Meyerson, the DLA Piper professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
The Supreme Court is operating on the concept that law-abiding citizens have a right to self-defense, Meyerson said. “So regulations have to be crafted, if you ask me, in a way that acknowledges that sort of requirement,” he said.
“Take the court at its word, and realize you are going to have to meet the requirements of letting ‘law-abiding citizens’ have arms for self-defense,” Meyerson said. “So maybe focus on the biggest dangers. Maybe focus on the highest-risk population.”
Gun use can also be restricted in what’s broadly known under a prior court decision as “sensitive places,” such as schools or government buildings — another area lawmakers could consider as they evaluate the law for carrying guns.
Whatever lawmakers decide, they should consider being as specific and narrow as possible in order to pass legal muster, Meyerson said.
“When we are trying to meet their ever-changing guideline, I think the narrower, the more chance you have,” he said.
Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a leading advocate for stricter gun laws in Maryland, said she’s disappointed in the ruling.
“We’re in the wake of all these mass shootings. We have had an incredible amount of gun violence going on in our country, and what the Supreme Court wants to do is have people walking around carrying a gun for no reason,” she said.
Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat, said she worries that disagreements and dust-ups — over parking spaces, over business disputes — could turn violent if more people are carrying guns.
“It really just opens up an opportunity for increased gun violence,” Atterbeary said.
Lawmakers are going to have to do their research to see if there’s any way to continue to limit wear and carry permits in light of the decision in the New York case, said Atterbeary, who is vice chair of the House of Delegates committee that handles gun access laws.
“It is up to the attorney general and the state legislature to best protect the citizens in our state and figure out a way to combat the Supreme Court ruling, and try to maintain the strictness that we have in being able to carry a weapon,” she said.
House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, both Democrats, issued a joint statement saying that “if necessary” they’ll work to pass legislation “that protects Marylanders and complies with this brand-new precedent.” They said they “fundamentally disagree” with the high court’s opinion.
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, celebrated the court ruling, hoping that it will open up access to permits in Maryland. The “good and substantial” standard has long frustrated gun rights advocates.
“The problem with Maryland’s system is this uneven application of this amorphous standard — someone sitting in a room deciding whether you or I have a legal right to carry a handgun,” said Del. Jason Buckel, the Republican minority leader in the House of Delegates. “It seems very arbitrary for someone to say this person gets to carry it because they are transporting cash, but that person doesn’t get to carry it even though they’ve been threatened in a domestic situation.”
Baltimore Banner reporter Cadence Quaranta contributed to this article.