“This is a potentially very dangerous decision,” said Jonathan Lowy, director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which supported the state in the lawsuit. “People of Maryland have right to decide who can carry loaded guns in the public places that we all enjoy.”
“I don’t think this is a decision that will enhance public safety,” said Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “It will more likely harm public safety.”
The fight over gun rights in Maryland also reaches into the state legislature and produces a perennially heated debate in Annapolis, with Republicans blasting Democrats for imposing gun laws on the state’s entire population that are tailored for the Baltimore and Washington areas.
Republican lawmakers have four bills pending in the House of Delegates to repeal the “good and substantial reason” requirement. Similar bills have failed repeatedly in recent years. There are now about 12,000 active handgun permits in Maryland, according to the state police.
Officials have denied an average of 214 applicants annually since 2009 on the basis of a finding that the person did not have a substantial reason to wear, carry or transport a gun, according to the state Department of Legislative Services.
During debate on the Republican-sponsored bills this year, state police warned that undoing the requirement would result in an initial wave of 15,000 applicants for handguns in the budget year beginning in July and that an additional 10,000 people would apply, on average, every year thereafter.
But the state’s nonpartisan budget analyst’s office took issue with those estimates. It said the state police had failed to provide a rationale for such a large projected increase. The analyst’s office, nonetheless, estimated that the number of gun applications statewide would double, to about 3,600 annually.
During a Feb. 21 hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, dozens of gun rights advocates crowded the committee room to testify about the difficulty of obtaining a permit to carry a gun in Maryland.
Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil), the lead sponsor of one of the bills, argued that the ability to carry a gun is an “unalienable right that comes from God” and grilled Maryland State Police Lt. Jerry Beason about the necessity of the “good and substantial reason” clause. Beason conceded that the phrase is “impossible” to define.
“Shame on the state of Maryland,” Smigiel said.
Staff writers Fredrick Kunkle and Greg Masters and staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.