Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown has yet to declare his next steps in Maryland Shall Issue v. Moore after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently concluded that the state’s Handgun Qualification License (basically a permit-to-purchase law) violates the Second Amendment rights of residents, but the editors of the Baltimore Sun are encouraging the AG to keep the case away from the Supreme Court for as long as possible, and instead ask the Fourth Circuit for an en banc review of the case in the hopes of finding a more favorable ruling for the forces of gun control.
In their editorial, the Sun editors fail to document any substantial benefit of the gun control law, which requires all Maryland residents to go through an extensive background check and training process before they can apply for permission to go and purchase a pistol. Instead, they argue that the restrictions are no big deal, even though the law creates a de facto 30-day waiting period on all handgun purchases.
… what seems to have triggered the adverse ruling against Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013 comes down to a modest inconvenience. One of the primary goals of licensing is to prevent “straw” purchases where third parties buy handguns to bypass background checks. And a 30-day delay? Trivial given how all sorts of fundamental rights face similar restrictions in modern life. Even something as sacred as First Amendment-protected public protests often require some kind of registration to be staged in public areas.
The idea that the Handgun Qualification License is going to weed out straw buyers is absolutely nonsensical. A straw purchaser, by definition, is someone who’s legally eligible to own a firearm who buys a gun for someone who’s not allowed to purchase or possess one themselves. Requiring every handgun purchaser to run a bureaucratic licensing gauntlet beforehand may add some additional burdens to would-be straw buyers, but it’s not going to flag them or result in a denial.
Far more troubling than the editors’ blithe assertion that the HQL serves as some meaningful impediment to criminals getting their hands on a gun is their casual dismissal of the 30-day waiting period, which, as the Fourth Circuit panel that overturned the law noted, is actually much longer given that it “doesn’t count the time needed to obtain and complete the application, to complete the instructional course and live-fire requirement, and to obtain the approved set of fingerprints that the handgun-qualification-license law requires.” The panel also pointed out that the 30 days given to licensing authorities to approve or deny a HQL application also doesn’t take into account “the time that it would take to comply with Maryland’s separate 77R registration process, which is required before every firearms transfer” and gives the state an additional seven days to conduct a simple background check before the gun can be lawfully transferred.
On paper it’s a 30-day wait, but in reality, would-be handgun buyers could end up twiddling their thumbs for months before they’re even able to find a spot in a gun training course that satisfies the state’s requirements and allows them to submit their paperwork. Even if those additional barriers weren’t present, however, waiting a month in order to exercise your right to armed self-defense is hardly a trivial matter, especially for those who have specific and concrete concerns about their personal safety. The Fourth Circuit panel explicitly acknowledged this, writing that “the law’s waiting period could well be the critical time in which the applicant expects to face danger.”
My guess is that none of the paper’s editors have ever been confronted with a situation where someone is making a credible threat to do them harm, or at least they’ve never been in a position where they’ve decided they need a firearm for self-defense. If any of them did have that personal experience, they’d know how utterly callous it is to proclaim that being denied your right to armed self-defense for weeks on end is a trivial concern, when for some folks it’s quite literally a matter of life or death.
The comparison to a public protest that might require some sort of permit is also inept and inaccurate. Let’s say you really want to hold a demonstration in Baltimore. What barriers are standing in your way? As the Maryland chapter of the ACLU says, there are many ways to do so without having to obtain a permit beforehand.
- You have the right to protest in public spaces without blocking pedestrian or vehicle traffic without a permit. Larger demonstrations that block pedestrian or vehicle traffic may require a permit. But permit rules also have to allow for spontaneous demonstrations, or demonstrations meant to quickly respond to recent events. Permit rules that don’t allow for this are unconstitutional.
- You have the right to take pictures and video of anything that is in plain view, including police officers. On private property, the owner may have different rules about taking pictures or videos. Officers can order you to stop any actions that are truly interfering with their activities, including taking pictures or videotaping. But moving further away should resolve concerns about interference.
- You have the right to hand out written materials and ask for donations on public sidewalks and parks without a permit. You might need a permit to set up a table.
There are plenty of options allowing you to exercise your First Amendment rights without first obtaining a permit to do so from the city government. Purchasing a handgun, on the other hand, requires that you first obtain a Handgun Qualification License and then go through another background check process before you can take possession. There is no other option available to Marylanders. Private sales? Nope. You still have to go through a background check and have a valid HQL before a person-to-person transfer can take place. Go to an out-of-state gun shop? That won’t work either, since federal law mandates that all handgun purchases must go through an FFL in your home state. You could buy a gun and have it transferred to your local gun shop, but before you can take possession you’re gonna have to obtain a Handgun Qualification License.
The infringement on the rights of Maryland residents caused by the Handgun Qualification License is only trivial if you think the underlying right to keep and bear arms is just as insignificant. That might be the case for the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun, but hundreds of thousands of Maryland residents would disagree… and thankfully, a majority of the three-judge panel that considered Maryland’s law do as well.