National Group Weighs in on Case Challenging State Gun-Permit Laws

… Brady center urges dismissal of lawsuit challenging state’s handgun carry permit process …

baltimoresun.com

By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

2:53 PM EDT, March 22, 2011

A national gun control advocacy group on Tuesday weighed in on a federal lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of Maryland’s handgun permitting laws, saying the suit seeks to make the state’s gun laws like those in Arizona and would be “bad law and even worse policy.”

In an amicus brief, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence urges the dismissal of a lawsuit brought last year by the Second Amendment Foundation on behalf of Hampstead resident Raymond Woollard, a Navy veteran who was denied a renewal of his handgun permit.

Brady Center President Paul Helmke said in a statement that Maryland has “wisely rejected the gun lobby’s agenda of ‘any gun, anywhere for anybody.’ Now the gun pushers want the courts to gut Maryland’s laws and let virtually anyone carry a hidden handgun in public.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court by the Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation, which successfully has challenged weapons laws in Chicago and the District of Columbia. It challenges a Maryland law that grants permits to carry a handgun only to those who show, among other things, that they could be in danger.

The plaintiffs contend that the Maryland provision is unconstitutional and goes against citizens’ rights to bear arms, and the suit asks the court to prevent similar denials while granting Woollard the right to wear a firearm.

Woollard was issued a handgun carry permit in 2003, after his son-in-law broke into his home and attacked him. Documents show he held the man at gunpoint for two-and-a-half hours waiting for county police to respond to the 911 call.

The permit was renewed two years later based on Woollard’s fear of retaliation upon the son-in-law’s release from prison. But a second renewal application in 2008 was denied, with a review board finding that he lacked a “good and substantial reason” to transport the handgun because he could not provide documentation of threats occurring beyond his residence, where he was already allowed to possess a weapon.

“When individuals enjoy a constitutional ‘right’ to engage in some activity, a license to engage in that activity cannot be conditioned on the government’s determination of their ‘need’ to exercise that right,” Woollard’s attorneys wrote in a recent court filing.

“The state … cannot reserve for itself the power to arbitrarily decide, in all cases, whether individuals should be able to carry guns for self-defense. That decision has already been made for the state, in the federal constitution.”

Gun control advocates say the state’s laws are reasonable.

“While the gun lobby may want the courts to make Maryland’s gun laws like Arizona’s, the Tucson shootings are the freshest evidence that overturning the current permitting process would be bad law and even worse policy,” said Helmke, of the Brady center.

In its brief, the group argues that Marylanders have no Second Amendment right to possess and carry weapons in public places and says that the Supreme Court upheld concealed carry bans. “A right to keep and bear arms does not prevent states from restricting or forbidding guns in public places,” attorneys for the group argue.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that the White House was initiating a series of sessions with leaders on both sides of the gun control issue to try to reach a compromise on legislation to reduce gun violence. President Obama has called for greater enforcement of gun laws and better background checks since the January shooting that killed six people and injured 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The permitting process in Maryland is overseen by the Maryland State Police. Applicants must have a clean record and must prove a substantial reason for needing to transport the weapon. Investigations by the state include checking personal and business references and consideration of whether the applicant has alternative options for protection available, according to court papers.

Another challenge to the state’s gun laws was recently rebuffed by the state’s highest court. In that case, Charles F. Williams Jr., who was arrested in Prince George’s County in 2007 for carrying a handgun in public, argued that the state’s laws infringed on his constitutional rights.

“If my client had been among the 7 percent of Marylanders that are wealthy enough to own two residences – two bona fide residences – he could transport the handgun anywhere he wanted to,” Williams’ attorney, James Hopewell, said during court arguments in October.

But the state’s high court said in January that the Supreme Court addressed the right to possess handguns for the purpose of self-defense in a home, and had no impact on Williams’ violation of transporting a handgun in public without a permit.

Anticipating challenges, a 15-page analysis by the state attorney general’s office in 2008 concluded that Maryland’s laws are less strict than those struck down in Washington and Chicago and could withstand a legal challenge. The analysis did not address, however, the provisions of the permitting process that the Second Amendment Foundation is challenging in the Woollard case.

The state argued in a motion for dismissal of the Woollard case that “because handguns are often used in the commission of crimes, their regulation falls squarely within the important state interest in protecting public safety.”

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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… When guns are outlawed for the law abiding, only outlaws who follow no laws will have guns.  Just like foolishly abolishing the ‘Death Penalty,’ there will be no way to rid society of the worst of the redundant worst.  You are right again, Forrest. …

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