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Maryland handgun licensing law struck down by federal appeals court

A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down Maryland’s handgun licensing law, finding that its requirements, which include submitting fingerprints for a background check and taking a four-hour class on gun safety, are unconstitutionally restrictive.

BALTIMORE (AP) — A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down Maryland’s gun licensing law, finding that its requirements, which include submitting fingerprints for a background check and tracking a four-hour gun safety course, are unconstitutionally restrictive.

In a 2-1 ruling, judges at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond said they considered the case in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling the year latter which “made a radical change to Second Amendment law.”

The underlying lawsuit was filed in 2016 to challenge a Maryland law requiring people to obtain a special license before purchasing a handgun. The law, which was passed in 2013 following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, provides a series of necessary steps for potential gun buyers: Complete a four-hour safety training , which includes firing a live bullet, submitting one’s fingerprints. and pass a background check, be 21 years old and reside in Maryland.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, said he was disappointed by the circuit court’s decision and that he “will continue to fight for this law.” He said his administration was reviewing the decision and considering its options.

“Common-sense gun laws are essential to protect all Marylanders from the gun violence that terrorizes our communities. Moore said in a statement Tuesday. “I am determined to do more than just send thoughts and prayers and attend funerals – and that is why this law is essential to our administration’s commitment to keeping guns out of the wrong hands and saving lives. “

The 4th Circuit opinion by Judge Julius Richardson directly references the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that Americans have the right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. The move, which also comes after a series of mass shootings, marked the start of a major expansion of gun rights.

It also required gun laws to be consistent with the country’s “historic tradition of gun regulation.” In this case, Richardson and Judge G. Steven Agee found no evidence of such an alignment.

“If you live in Maryland and want a handgun, you have to follow a long and winding path to obtain one,” Richardson wrote in the opinion. “The challenged law restricts the ability of law-abiding adult citizens to possess handguns, and the State has not presented a historical analog justifying this restriction. »

The court also noted the time frame for obtaining a handgun qualification permit, which could take up to 30 days.

Even though Maryland law does not prohibit people from “owning handguns at some point in the future, it still prohibits them from owning handguns now,” Richardson wrote. “And the statutory waiting period may well be the critical time during which the applicant expects to face danger.”

But in her dissenting opinion, Justice Barbara Milano Keenan said her colleagues misapplied Supreme Court precedent. She condemned their “hyperaggressive view of the Second Amendment.”

Instead of overturning the district court’s ruling issued before the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling, Keenan argued, the case should have been sent back to the lower court for reconsideration because “there is no legitimate reason to short-circuiting the legal process.”

Agee and Richardson were nominated by Republican presidents, while Keenan was nominated by a Democrat.

The Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling — its first major ruling on guns in more than a decade — was evenly divided, with the court’s conservatives in the majority and liberals dissenting.

Mark Pennack, president of the advocacy group Maryland Shall Issue, which filed the lawsuit challenging the state’s licensing requirement, said he was pleased with Tuesday’s ruling. He said it eliminated an unnecessary tangle of red tape.

“This is a great victory for common sense and the rule of law,” he said.

Pennack said the 2013 law made obtaining a handgun too expensive and arduous a process. Before that law passed, he said, people had to complete more limited training and pass a background check, among other requirements.

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