Maryland’s Handgun Qualification Law Found UnconstitutionalA three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck a blow for the Constitution on Tuesday, when it ruled that the state’s Handgun Qualification Law is unconstitutional.

Per Maryland Matters, “in its decision, a split three-judge panel ruled that the law unduly burdens Second Amendment rights. Additionally, the judges wrote that Maryland failed to show a ‘historical tradition’ of firearm regulation justifying the license.” The law, passed in 2016, has seen consistent pushback since it went into effect.

Why was the law found unconstitutional?

Under the law, Maryland residents could still legally purchase a handgun – but there were a lot of rules affecting one’s ability to do so. For example, despite 18 being the legal age of majority in every state in the country, prospective gun owners in Maryland could not legally purchase a handgun until they turned 21. Furthermore, they faced additional delays because the State could take up to 30 days to review an application. Per the decision, “though [the law] does not permanently bar plaintiffs from owning handguns, the challenged law deprives them of that ability until their application is approved, no matter what they do.”

In other words, by implementing additional regulations on prospective buyers, the State of Maryland effectively denied those buyers’ Constitutional right to own a handgun – even if it wasn’t a permanent denial.

What is the “historical tradition” element?

One of the reasons why the Maryland Handgun Qualification Law was deemed unconstitutional was the lack of “historical analogue” in the State’s laws; that requirement was enshrined once and for all in the U.S. Supreme Court case New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen:

In keeping with Heller, we hold that when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct. To justify its regulation, the government may not simply posit that the regulation promotes an important interest. Rather, the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s “unqualified command.”

It was up to the State to prove that Maryland’s regulations had some historical context. It could not.

Read more: Maryland’s Existing Gun Control Laws Are Officially Unconstitutional

Of course, it wasn’t a unanimous decision. Senior Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Barbara Keenan dissented, writing that “The majority bases its holding on the premise that if a law affects a prospective handgun purchaser’s ability to obtain a handgun ‘now,’ the law is presumptively unconstitutional. This sweeping rule flies directly in the face of Bruen’s discussion of non-discretionary ‘shall-issue’ laws and is not supported by any Supreme Court precedent.”

Why this decision matters

Perhaps no issue is more divisive in America than that of gun regulation. We believe that it’s because most folks don’t actually understand what the Constitution gives them the right to do, and what it does not.

Here’s an example: say Person A murders Person B. Under Maryland law, murder is a felony – and people who are convicted of felony crimes lose the right to possess a firearm of any kind. This is no different than any other punishment, like the loss of your freedom (from incarceration) or the loss of your security clearance. Whether that felony is murder or rape or second-degree assault, a conviction of a felony charge leads to the stripping of certain rights.

Read more: An Overview of Gun Possession by Prohibited Person Laws in Maryland

But that’s not what happened with the Handgun Qualification Law. That law denied the Constitutional right to purchase and possess a firearm to some adults preemptively (by making them wait as much as 30 days, despite not having felony convictions) and some adults entirely (anyone between the age of 18 and 21). And under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the right to bear arms shall not be infringed – period.

At Carey Law Office, we protect those whose Constitutional rights have been denied or violated. Our team has decades of experience that we put to work for you. To learn more about our services, or to schedule a consultation with a criminal defense lawyer in Bowie, Crofton, or Owings, call or contact us today. Also serving clients in Calvert County and throughout Maryland.