Maryland's handgun licensing law challenged in federal court

A Second Amendment organization has joined with a gun store and local citizens to challenge Maryland’s 2013 permit-to-purchase law in federal court.

Maryland Shall Issue, Atlantic Guns and four Maryland residents named Gov. Larry Hogan and state police officials as plaintiffs in a case challenging the state’s Handgun Qualification License requirements in a Baltimore federal court last week.

The group claims the licensing process, required to buy handguns in Maryland, is lengthy, expensive, invasive, and — worst of all — unnecessary since buyers already need a federal background check at the point of sale.

Maryland Shall Issue said the requirements create obstacles that block residents from exercising their right to buy a handgun, and few people have the time, money and understanding to navigate the bureaucracies. “That result is wrong and simply cannot be meekly accepted without a fight. That fight is now on,” the group said.

The state adopted the qualifications as part of the new Firearm Safety Act, which lawmakers passed three years ago in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that claimed the lives of 26 students and faculty.

Signed by Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley, the measure included not only the permit to purchase scheme brought in to court by last week’s lawsuit, but also an assault weapon ban and other measures that led to firearms maker Beretta moving some operations out of the state.

While the ban is being debated in a long-running lawsuit and state lawmakers pursue additional measures, the latest legal challenge sets its sights only on the permit to purchase scheme.

Under current guidelines, the Maryland State Police collect a $17 fingerprint fee, $18 to check state criminal records, a $14.50 charge to do the same for federal criminal records, and a $50 application fee. This is over and above any cost associated with the mandatory four-hour firearms safety course. In short, plaintiffs hold an applicant can pay hundreds of dollars and have to seek out sometimes hard to find approved instructors to take the live-fire course, all before they are allowed to buy a handgun in the state.

“The underlying intent and practical effect of these requirements is the disenfranchisement of Second Amendment rights for the poor and disadvantaged who may be concentrated in such urban areas and who may lack the means to travel to rural areas for live fire instruction,” according to court documents.

Besides the fees, plaintiffs argue the average current wait time for an HQL is 28 days and, even after it is granted, the state requires a further seven day waiting period before it can be used to buy a handgun. They hold this can put months between a desire to purchase a pistol or revolver for home protection and actually acquiring one.

The plaintiffs are seeking to enjoin the state from enforcing the current mandates on Second Amendment grounds as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

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