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Maryland lawmakers could change gun law after Supreme Court’s ruling

Guns on display at a Miami gun store. The Supreme Court ruled that Americans have a right to carry concealed guns for self-protection. (Alan Diaz/AP)

The Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that Americans have a right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense — striking down a New York law that made it illegal to carry a gun in public without proving there was a special need for protection — could mean Maryland will have to change its own similar law.

Under state law, a gun owner must prove that they have a “good and substantial reason” to carry a concealed weapon. That could include proving they have been threatened and are in danger, showing they have high security clearances, or being a business owner. About 39,000 concealed carry licenses are issued in Maryland.

But on Thursday, the nation’s highest court issued its 6-to-3 decision striking down a similar law in New York that requires proof of a special circumstances to carry a gun — a ruling that is likely to impact a number of other states and could make it easier to carry guns in some of the nation’s biggest cities.

Many of Maryland’s Democratic leaders — who have been active on gun legislation, including banning “ghost guns,” which are assembled from parts and sold in kits on the internet without background checks — expressed concern about how the decision will impact already rising crime, while Republicans celebrated the victory as a step in the right direction.

Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said in a joint statement that they would be reviewing the opinion but called universal concealed carry the “wrong answer” to address gun violence.

“We will be reviewing the opinion and, if necessary, pass legislation that protects Marylanders and complies with this brand-new precedent,” they wrote.

Maryland’s Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) called the state’s current law a “common sense” measure that keeps residents safe and helps limit gun violence. Without it, he said, the state will become more dangerous, and make jobs harder for law enforcement officials.

“If the norm is that people can carry firearms, our neighborhoods, our streets and other public places will become more dangerous,” Frosh said in a statement. “The epidemic of gun violence sweeping our nation demonstrates daily the folly of introducing more guns into this boiling cauldron.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) did not release a statement on the decision, but candidates vying for the term-limited governor’s seat took the opportunity to assert stances on gun control and crime.

“We cannot hand out conceal-carry permits like candy. If and when Maryland’s law is struck down, every Tom, Dick or Harry who feels like toting a gun in public will be empowered to do so,” Democratic candidate and former state attorney general Doug Gansler tweeted. “Make no mistake: that means there will be more guns on our streets, and more guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

Democratic candidate and former U.S. labor secretary Thomas Perez agreed: “The Supreme Court’s disastrous decision today to loosen concealed carry safety laws across the country — including potentially here in Maryland — will put people’s lives at greater risk. We need to do more to prevent the scourge of gun violence, not less.”

Del. Daniel L. Cox (Frederick), a Republican candidate, celebrated the decision. He requested that the governor “immediately comply” and issue an order to the Maryland State Police, which issues concealed carry licenses, to follow the new ruling.

“I stand for constitutional carry and as governor I will ensure our constitutional rights are enforced,” Cox posted on Facebook.

His main opponent, former Maryland commerce secretary Kelly Schulz — who’s been endorsed by Hogan — took a broader approach.

“It is unclear what this means for Maryland, but Kelly Schulz supports law abiding gun owners and has repeatedly made her position on these issues very clear,” spokesman Mike Demkiw said in an emailed statement. “Maryland has some of the toughest gun laws in the country and that won’t change when she is governor.”

Some in Maryland have been fighting the law for years, even suing the state in a lawsuit that had been on hold in the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals pending the Supreme Court’s decision in the New York case. On Friday, briefing in the case was scheduled to begin in August.

Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, one of the groups that filed the suit, said he was ecstatic to see the Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday, calling the implications for Maryland’s law “definitive.”

“I’ve been doing this a long time and this is about as clear as I’ve ever seen it,” Pennak said. “It’s very clear that the Maryland ‘good substantial reason’ requirement is blatantly unconstitutional, for the same reason that New York’s ‘good cause’ requirement was unconstitutional, because it gives its discretion to the licensing official.”

Pennak said that it’s up to the state to take its next steps and either “stand in the doorway and defy the Supreme Court,” or remove the requirement. For Pennak and Maryland Shall Issue, he said the work’s not done yet.

“Maryland has a whole panoply of other gun control laws which are likely to be unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s decision,” Pennak said. “And we will be litigating.”