On November 21, 2023, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit issued a decision in two cases finding Maryland’s handgun licensing scheme unconstitutional. To obtain a firearm in Maryland, you must first fill out an application with certain identifying information and then wait seven days while the state performs a background check. Md. Code, Pub. Safety §§ 5-117, 118–130. However, for handguns, before you are eligible to submit this firearm application, you must obtain a handgun qualification license (§ 5-117.1), which requires submitting your fingerprints, as well as a four-hour firearms safety training course. After submittal of this application for this extra license, you must wait up to thirty days for approval before starting the remainder of the process. This license is different than a license to carry a handgun, which requires a separate permit. §§ 5-301–314. Thus, if you want to carry a handgun in the state, you must submit three separate applications and obtain two licenses. The opinion describes the scheme as “a long winding path.” The plaintiffs in these cases only challenged Maryland’s law mandating a handgun qualification license.
The state in these cases admitted that it could not locate any historical analogue that justifies this restriction. This historical analogue is necessary in order for the restriction to withstand muster pursuant to the US Supreme Court’s Bruen opinion issued last June. The Fourth Circuit applied Bruen’s framework which provides that “when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct.” At this point, the challenged regulation is unconstitutional unless it “is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” The court held, “[I]n Maryland, if you are a law-abiding person who wants a handgun, you must wait up to thirty days for the state to give you its blessing. Until then, there is nothing you can do; the issue is out of your control. Maryland has not shown that this regime is consistent with our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. There might well be a tradition of prohibiting dangerous people from owning firearms. But, under the Second Amendment, mechanism matters.”
This decision may have wider implications that go beyond the Fourth Circuit. It is likely that plaintiffs in states such as New York, New Jersey, California, and Massachusetts will use this decision in challenges to similar and even more stringent licensing schemes than Maryland.
Renzulli Law Firm, LLP will continue to monitor the cases challenging this statute and other firearm related lawsuits around the country. If you have any questions concerning firearms related litigation, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.