National group weighs in on case challenging state gun-permit laws

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

March 22, 2011|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

A national gun control advocacy group weighed in Tuesday on a federal lawsuit that challenges Maryland's handgun permit laws, saying that the changes sought 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 has successfully 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 regulations are unconstitutional and go 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, according to court filings. Documents show he held the man at gunpoint for two and a half hours while waiting for county police to respond to a 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."

The permitting process in Maryland is overseen by the Maryland State Police, and Col. Terrence Sheridan is named as a defendant. 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 — brought by a man arrested in Prince George's County for carrying a handgun in public without a permit — was rebuffed by the state's highest court in January.

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

In its brief, the Brady 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.

Alan Gura, a Virginia-based attorney for the plaintiffs, said gun control supporters were "in denial" and that Maryland's laws are "extraordinarily restrictive."

"We want Maryland to be a normal part of America that applies objective standards and due process," he said. "It's not up to the state to decide if they have a good enough reason."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

http://twitter.com/justin_fenton



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