We don’t require a permit to exercise almost any of our rights. The closest we see in most cases is registering to vote, but that has just as much to do with making sure one is voting on the correct races as making sure one is eligible to vote in the first place.
But guns are different. They shouldn’t be and I’m not saying otherwise. I’m just stating that they are.
Americans who want to buy a gun have to jump through hoops in order to do so as it stands. You either go through a background check or you present your concealed carry permit that lets you bypass that step because you’ve already gone through it.
In some states, though, it’s worse. You have to have a permit to purchase a firearm at all.
Yet, a federal court overturned a Maryland law requiring a such a permit. They found it was inconsistent with the standards laid down in the Bruen decision.
And as Jacob Sullum notes over at Reason, this may spell bad news for similar laws across the nation.
Maryland argued that its law fits a tradition of disarming “dangerous” individuals, such as people with felony records, illegal drug users, and people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors. But even assuming those categories of “prohibited persons” are validated by long-standing practice, 4th Circuit Judge Julius Richardson said, Maryland’s statute goes further by “preemptively disarming every person until they can each prove that they are not dangerous,” which “burdens a far broader swath of people.”
Writing in dissent, Judge Barbara Milano Keenan highlighted the Supreme Court’s distinction between “may issue” laws like New York’s, which required carry-permit applicants to demonstrate “proper cause,” and “shall issue” laws, which make permits available to all applicants who meet “objective criteria.” Maryland’s licensing system for handgun buyers falls into the latter category, Keenan said, which suggests the Court would be inclined to uphold it.
While the Supreme Court did indicate that “shall issue” laws could be consistent with the Second Amendment, it also noted that “any permitting scheme can be put toward abusive ends.” It therefore did not rule out “constitutional challenges to shall-issue regimes where, for example, lengthy wait times in processing license applications or exorbitant fees deny ordinary citizens their right to public carry.”
Although it’s not clear what counts as an unacceptably “lengthy” time to wait for permission to obtain a firearm, the 4th Circuit majority thought a month was too long. If so, the laws of other states that license gun buyers could be vulnerable.
Sullum notes that New York takes four months to issue a permit to purchase and Illinois is supposed to do it within 30 days, but has actually taken longer than that ever since 2020.
If this remains consistent, then it’s entirely likely that other courts will find these regulations to be unacceptable too.
And honestly, why shouldn’t they?
One of the primary reasons people buy guns is for self-defense. With a one- to four-month waiting period before you can actually buy a gun, an awful lot can happen. I mean, we’ve seen celebrity marriages that didn’t last that long, for crying out loud.
If someone has reason to be afraid and seeks to get a firearm for personal protection, these laws give whoever is threatening them a window in which their prey is vulnerable and there’s just no reason for it.
It should be noted that these states all some degree of universal background check in place, at least with regard to the guns covered by permit-to-purchase requirements. One would imagine that if your goal is to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, that would be sufficient. Otherwise, why have the laws in the first place, right?
The truth is that they won’t work, but permit to purchase requirements don’t work either. The very people who buy and sell guns without required background checks are going to be the same people who will buy and sell them without a purchase permit.
So even by that reasoning, there’s no justification for these laws.
Yet they also delay people being able to buy a firearm, and not just for a few days while they want for the background check to process. A right delayed is a right denied.
So Maryland’s law being smacked down may well be a good sign for the rest of the nation, particularly those of you stuck in states that make you ask, “Mother, may I?” before you exercise your Second Amendment rights.