Fourth Circuit Overturns Maryland’s Handgun License Requirement

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Landmark Ruling Overturns Previous Law

In a significant ruling on November 21, 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a district court ruling, effectively nullifying Maryland’s handgun qualification license requirement.

This decision, in the case involving Maryland Shall Issue Inc., individuals, and Atlantic Guns Inc., represents a major victory for Second Amendment advocates.

NRA-ILA Explains the Purchasing Process

Acquiring a handgun in Maryland is a draconian process. Before one can exercise their Second Amendment right to own a handgun, they must first get an HQL. Obtaining an HQL requires taking a four-hour class with classroom and live-fire components, which costs several hundred dollars, undergoing a background check that includes submitting a complete set of fingerprints, which the individual must pay for, and then waiting up to 30 days for the state to process the application. But obtaining that license does not allow one to purchase a firearm. The individual must undergo an additional background check and another seven-business-day waiting period when acquiring a handgun, and then a NICS check must be completed when the firearm is transferred.


Impact of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen

The court’s decision, spearheaded by Judge Richardson, leverages the Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

This precedent has significantly altered the landscape for Second Amendment challenges.

Maryland’s law, which mandated a qualification license for handgun purchases, rentals, or acquisitions, imposed burdens on all citizens, including those temporarily in the state.

Lack of Historical Justification for Maryland’s Law

The appellate court pointed out that Maryland did not provide sufficient historical evidence to justify its handgun qualification license requirement.

The law’s broad impact on all citizens, as opposed to targeting specific dangerous individuals, starkly contrasts with historical firearm regulations.

Second Amendment Mechanisms Scrutinized

The decision underlines the importance of the mechanism of laws under the Second Amendment.

Maryland’s approach of preemptively restricting firearm access to all citizens, pending a demonstration of non-dangerousness, was found to be inconsistent with historical firearm regulation traditions.

Comment From Anti-Gun Lobby

“Requiring handgun purchasers to pass a background check and undergo gun safety training prior to purchasing a gun is not only common sense, it is entirely consistent with the Second Amendment and the new test established by the Bruen decision,” said William Taylor, Deputy Director of Second Amendment Litigation at Everytown Law in a press release.

“While today’s decision is a setback to public safety, we fully expect that the full Fourth Circuit, or if necessary, the Supreme Court, will reverse this dangerous decision and uphold Maryland’s critical gun safety law,” Taylor added.

Implications for Future Firearms Regulations

This ruling is pivotal in shaping the interpretation and application of the Second Amendment, especially regarding state-level firearms laws.

It signals a changing legal environment for gun rights in America and may influence future legal challenges against similar, unconstitutional regulations in other states.

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