Gun Groups Take Aim at New Maryland Law
(CN) - Maryland gun owners and gun-rights advocates sued on Monday to block the state from implementing a law they say violates the Second Amendment by effectively barring them from buying, selling or receiving handguns.
In a federal lawsuit targeting Gov. Martin O'Malley, Attorney General Douglas Gansler, state police Superintendent Col. Marcus Brown and Maryland State Police, the plaintiffs say the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, signed into law on May 16, "will result in a complete deprivation of plaintiffs' right to acquire a handgun for lawful use in their homes."
The law, which takes effect Oct. 1, makes it illegal to "sell, rent or transfer" a handgun to anyone without a handgun qualification license. Conversely, those without a valid license are barred from buying, renting or receiving a handgun.
Breaking the law is a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $10,000 and a maximum prison term of five years.
"A conviction under this provision would result in the loss of the sellers' federal license to sell and the purchasers' right to possess firearms of all kinds," according to the lawsuit filed in Federal Court in Baltimore.
"On October 1, 2013, no one in the state of Maryland will have a handgun qualification license, and no one can credibly predict when anyone in the state of Maryland will obtain a handgun qualification license," the plaintiffs claim. "This Catch 22 creates a complete ban on the acquisition of handguns in Maryland as of October 1, 2013."
They say this effectively bars them "from exercising their constitutional right to own a handgun in their homes for self defense" until they meet the license requirements, which include safety courses, and fingerprint and background checks.
"This situation is made even worse by the backlog of nearly 50,000 applications for purchase of handguns and other regulated firearms being processed by the defendant Maryland State Police," the plaintiffs add.
Though state police issued a press release saying they would not enforce the license requirement for anyone who bought or applied for a handgun before Oct. 1, the plaintiffs say other law enforcement agencies can go after them.
"Maryland State Police's statement only confuses rather than clarifies what is permitted and what is not with respect to handgun acquisition," they claim.
And while the law gives police just 30 days to issue a handgun qualification license to an approved applicant, the plaintiffs say they take "little comfort" in this deadline, given the police's massive backlog of unprocessed applications.
"That backlog of unprocessed applications to purchase regulated firearms, including handguns, stands at nearly 50,000 today, and it is taking almost four months to process an application," the gun owners and groups claim.
They seek an order barring enforcement of a law they say is murky, even when explained by the defendants. The attorney general and the state police allegedly issued contradicting opinions on whether handguns ordered before Oct. 1 will be exempt from the license requirement.
Alan Brody, a spokesman for the Maryland attorney general, said Gansler cannot comment on pending litigation. "However, our position on the constitutionality of this law is spelled out in the ... bill review letter," which Gansler submitted in April, Brody said in an email to Courthouse News.
In that document, Gansler says the U.S. Supreme Court has never endorsed "a constitutional right to individual firearm possession that is exempt from regulation."
He argues that the license requirement falls under the high court's list of "presumptively lawful regulatory measures" outlined in District of Columbia v. Heller. Though a 5-4 majority struck down D.C.'s handgun restrictions in the 2008 Heller decision, the justices cited "laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms" as an example of a "presumptively lawful" regulation.
The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the law's de facto prohibition on acquiring handguns violates their constitutional rights. They also want to delay implementation of the license provision for at least 90 days, or until state police can clear their backlog and issue handgun qualification licenses to approved applicants.
Plaintiffs are represented by John Sweeney of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings in Washington, D.C.
In addition to three unnamed gun owners, plaintiffs are: Wink's Sporting Goods, Atlantic Guns Inc., Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore Inc., Maryland Shall Issue Inc., Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association Inc., and Maryland Licensed Firearm Dealers Association Inc.