Maryland’s gun laws are about to be stricter, as Gov. Wes Moore on Tuesday put his signature on measures that limit who can get concealed carry handgun permits and where they can be used.
The bills, sponsored by Democratic lawmakers, are a direct response to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that forced the state to abandon its standard that gun owners show a “good and substantial reason” to get a concealed carry permit.
Permit applications soared, and some politicians and activists have feared that a proliferation of guns being carried in public could mean that confrontations may more often result in shootings and deaths.
Lawmakers spent much of the recent General Assembly session wrestling with how much further they can restrict the concealed carrying of handguns while remaining on solid legal footing.
“We’ve got to do more to get these guns off of our streets,” Moore, a Democrat, said to applause. “Gun violence is tearing apart the fabric of our communities — not just through mass shootings, but through shootings that are happening in each of our communities far too often.”
Dozens of advocates lined up for photos with the governor and legislative leaders, many of them wearing the signature red T-shirts from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and affiliated organizations.
The Moms Demand crowd was a constant presence in Annapolis, testifying on the bills and tracking their progress through negotiations and modifications.
The Moms Demand group called the bills a “victory for gun safety.”
“There have been more mass shootings than days this year and gun violence continues to be the leading cause of death for children of Maryland, and gun safety has never been more important,” Moms Demand volunteer Ellen Ginsberg said in a statement.
Later on Tuesday, the legal arm of the National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore seeking a declaration that the restrictions and burdens on the right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense in Maryland are unconstitutional. That’s along with asking for an injunction to prevent the state from enforcing them.
”It is vital for law-abiding Marylanders to have an effective means of defending themselves and their loved ones,” said Randy Kozuch, executive director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, in a statement. “Our laws should burden criminals and aid good, lawful people.”
”It is evident that those in power in Maryland care more for criminals and less for the law-abiding,” he added.
The Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association is listed as a party in the suit.
In a statement responding to the suit, a spokesman for Moore said the bills protect both residents and the owners of legal firearms.
“We are saving lives while they are politically posturing,” Carter Elliott IV, the governor’s spokesman, said. “Every Marylander has the right to feel safe in their own communities and the governor is committed to doing everything in his power to make Maryland a safer home for everyone.”
“This bill has nothing to do with gun safety,” Republican state delegates wrote to the governor last week, urging him to veto one of the bills restricting concealed carry. “Instead, in our view, this bill is a de facto ban on the legal wearing and carrying of a firearm in Maryland. As written, this legislation would criminalize the otherwise lawful activities of concealed carry permit holders for merely exercising their rights.”
With the passage of the bills, “the Maryland General Assembly has chosen to defy the United States Supreme Court and the Constitution by undermining Marylanders’ civil right to protect themselves in public,” the gun-rights advocacy group Maryland Shall Issue wrote to members earlier this month.
Maryland Shall Issue President Mark Pennak wrote that the organization plans to defend the right to carry handguns “and will take appropriate action with litigation.”
The laws, which go into effect Oct. 1, will:
- Prohibit most permit holders from carrying a concealed handgun to schools, colleges, health care facilities, government buildings, polling places, power plants, places that sell cannabis or alcohol (including bars and restaurants), stadiums, museums, racetracks and casinos
- Prohibit most permit holders from carrying a concealed handgun on private property unless they have permission to do so
- Increase the maximum penalty for illegally wearing or carrying a firearm from three years incarceration to five years, a request pushed by Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates. Bates said Tuesday the measure is “a small but essential first step” for prosecutors fighting gun violence.
- Prohibit people from applying for a concealed carry permit if they’re on probation for: conviction of a crime that carries a jail sentence of one year; violating a protective order; or for driving under the influence or while intoxicated
- Increase the concealed carry permit fee from $75 to $125, as well as increase the renewal fee from $50 to $75
- Raise the age for applying for a concealed carry permit to 21, with the exception of military service members
- Expand the training requirements to obtain a handgun permit
The additional restrictions on concealed carry represent the latest steps in a continued effort by Democratic lawmakers to further regulate the use of guns in Maryland. In recent years, they’ve banned untraceable “ghost guns,” required background checks for private sales and transfers of rifles and shotguns, and created a “red flag” program to temporarily take guns away from those who may harm themselves or others.
Maryland’s law for keeping guns out of the hands of children will also become more strict on Oct. 1 with the passage of Jaelynn’s Law, which Moore also signed on Tuesday.
The law is named for Jaelynn Willey, who was fatally wounded at Great Mills High School as classes began one morning in 2018. The shooter was a 17-year-old student who used his father’s legally-owned gun, law enforcement officials said at the time.
Maryland’s law has prohibited gun owners from leaving their weapons where a child younger than 16 can access them; Jaelynn’s Law bumps that up to minors younger than 18.
Jaelynn’s Law also increases the penalties for violating the law. A first offense would result in a ban on owning or carrying a handgun for five years. A second offense or a first offense resulting in death or injuries would lead to a lifetime ban on owning or carrying a handgun.
Jaelynn’s Law was sponsored by Sen. William C. Smith Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat. A companion bill in the House of Delegates was sponsored by Del. Sandy Bartlett, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.
Jaelynn’s family sat in the front row of the bill signing ceremony. Moore presented Jaelynn’s mother, Melissa Willey, with the first ceremonial pen. She, in turn, gave the governor a teal “Jaelynn Strong” bracelet that he immediately placed on his wrist.
Moore, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones signed dozens of other bills in addition to the gun control bills.
Of the 810 pieces of legislation passed by lawmakers, Moore has signed into law all but about a dozen of them.
One notable bill that’s not yet been acted on would prohibit police officers from stopping a person or vehicle and searching them solely based on the smell of cannabis — and important measure, supporters say, given that cannabis use will be legal in Maryland for adults age 21 or older starting July 1.
The governor has until May 30 to sign bills, veto them or allow them to become law without his signature.
Baltimore Banner reporter Dylan Segelbaum contributed to this article.
This article has been updated to correct Carter Elliott IV’s title.