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Hogan orders relaxed rules for Maryland concealed handgun permits

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in Annapolis. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Tuesday ordered his administration to ease the state’s licensing rules for carrying a concealed handgun, saying a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision makes it unconstitutional to require applicants to show “a good and substantial reason” for seeking such a permit.

Responding to the high court’s June 23 ruling that makes it harder for governments to restrict the carrying of handguns outside the home, Hogan ordered Maryland State Police to immediately suspend the “substantial reason” provision in the rules for obtaining a concealed-carry permit. Absent that rule, applicants would be able to obtain concealed-carry licenses without citing personal circumstances that create a heightened need for armed self-defense.

In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court’s 6-to-3 conservative majority held that New York’s concealed-carry law — which required applicants to show “proper cause” for needing a handgun for self-defense — prevented people from exercising their rights under the Second Amendment.

“It would be unconstitutional to continue enforcing this provision in state law,” Hogan said of Maryland’s “substantial reason” requirement. He said the rule is “virtually indistinguishable” from New York’s “proper cause” provision, which the Supreme Court found defective. Suspending the Maryland provision “is in line with actions taken in other states in response to the recent ruling,” he said in a statement.

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About 39,000 concealed-carry licenses have been issued in Maryland.

The Supreme Court ruling prompted New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to convene a special legislative session at which lawmakers passed tough new restrictions on where concealed handguns can be carried. In Maryland, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) indicated Tuesday that lawmakers in his state will consider similar legislation.

“It makes me angry that we’re having conversations that people can walk around with guns on their hips and that that’s how we should act in Maryland to try to reduce violence,” Ferguson said at a news briefing on a different matter. “It’s crazy. It’s crazy. We have to follow the law — and we will — but we are going to do whatever it takes to make sure Marylanders are safe.”

He later vowed in a statement that Maryland lawmakers “will pass legislation that adheres to the new precedent set by this Supreme Court while ensuring reasonable restrictions to keep our families and communities safe.”

Mark W. Pennak, president of the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue, applauded Hogan’s “decision to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen,” saying in a statement, “For the first time in decades, ordinary, responsible, law-abiding citizens in Maryland will have their Second Amendment right for self-defense outside the home respected.”

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Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore) said in a tweet, “Between now and January, the Maryland House of Delegates will look at every option to curb the proliferation of guns on the street. … More guns do not make us safer.”

Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said that on June 27, four days after the Supreme Court ruling, Maryland State Police sought guidance from the state’s attorney general, Brian E. Frosh (D), regarding the legal implications of the decision.

Under the “substantial reason” standard, an applicant had to show, for instance, that they had been threatened and were in physical danger or that they operated a business that might be robbed. Maryland law describes it as “a finding that the permit is necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger.”

In a letter to the state police dated Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Patrick B. Hughes said the Supreme Court ruling means that Maryland’s “substantial reason” rule “is now unconstitutional.” He noted that he was only rendering a legal analysis and that “this advice letter does not address the wisdom of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment.”

Hughes also pointed out that “with limited exceptions specifically authorized by law, it remains illegal for an individual to carry, wear or transport a handgun in public in Maryland without a permit.” He said state police “must continue to enforce all other statutory prerequisites for the issuance of public-carry permits.” For example, applicants with specified kinds of criminal records or histories of violent or unstable behavior are still barred from receiving concealed-carry licenses.

“In addition, Maryland’s laws and regulations prohibiting the carrying of handguns in certain sensitive places — like schools — remain in effect,” Hughes wrote.

Hogan, who is term-limited as governor and is considering a run for president in 2024, has taken a cautious approach to gun policies during his administration in Maryland, a state with some of the toughest gun-control laws in the country.

This year, Hogan let a ban on ghost guns become law without his signature. He has previously signed a ban on the sale of bump stocks and a “red flag” law that allows judges to seize firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. He has also vetoed an effort to restrict who can get a concealed-carry permit, rejecting a plan to let administrative judges decide who should receive such licenses.