March 21 (Bloomberg) -- Maryland’s demand that a person who wants a permit to carry a gun outside the home show “good and substantial reason” for doing so was upheld by a U.S. appeals court as a constitutional public-safety measure.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, today reversed a lower-court judge, who ruled the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for self-defense extends beyond the home and that the state’s standard for granting a carry permit infringed on that right.
“The state has demonstrated that the good-and-substantial-reason requirement is reasonably adapted to Maryland’s significant interests in protecting public safety and preventing crime,” U.S. Circuit Judge Robert King wrote in a 33-page opinion.
The potential of the case to extend the Second Amendment right of gun possession to carrying firearms in public drew 45 interest groups and states to file briefs arguing their positions to the court. The judges opted not to address the question directly, saying Maryland’s law would withstand constitutional scrutiny even if the Second Amendment does protect a right to carry a gun outside the home.
“It’s not much of a right if the police can demand that you satisfy their vision of a ‘good and substantial reason’ to exercise it,” Alan Gura, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement released by the Second Amendment Foundation. “The next step is for courts to tell Americans that they need a ’good and substantial reason’ to speak, worship or be secure from unreasonable searches.”
Gura said the decision will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court if it isn’t reversed.
“As a preliminary matter, people should be able to carry guns for self-defense,” he said.
Under Maryland’s permitting law, residents who wish to carry a gun outside their home must demonstrate they need it for personal protection because of a specific threat or their business activities or because they belong to a high-risk profession. Law enforcement and military personnel on active assignment and people traveling to shooting ranges are exempt from the requirement.
“It’s clearly the right result,” said Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, whose office defended the permit requirement.
States have discretion to require a reason when people want to carry guns outside their homes, Gansler said in a phone interview.
“The reality is that the vast, vast majority of applications are accepted,” Gansler said. “But they need a reason.”
The case was filed by Raymond Woollard, who challenged the state’s denial in 2009 for a renewal of a carry permit that was awarded six years earlier after a Christmas Eve break-in on his farm in which his son-in-law was arrested and sentenced to probation, according to today’s ruling. In rejecting Woollard’s application, the state noted that he hadn’t provided evidence of any threats or incidents outside his home since the 2002 incident.
In July, U.S. District Judge Benson Legg in Baltimore ruled the requirement infringed the Second Amendment and enjoined the state from enforcing it.
“A citizen may not be required to offer a ‘good and substantial reason’ why he should be permitted to exercise his rights,” Legg, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, wrote in his ruling. “The right’s existence is all the reason he needs.”
King, appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton, called Legg’s decision “trailblazing” and said the state’s requirement was “inappropriately condemned” by the lower court for being a rationing system that does little to combat threats to public safety. King said Legg was “wrong to denounce the good-and-substantial-reason requirement’s failure to single-handedly safeguard the public from every handgun-related hazard.”
His opinion was joined by circuit judges Andre Davis and Albert Diaz, both appointees of President Barack Obama.
The judges rejected arguments that increasing the number of so-called law-abiding gun owners would more effectively protect public safety and prevent crime.
“We cannot substitute those views for the considered judgment of the General Assembly that the good-and-substantial-reason requirement strikes an appropriate balance between granting handgun permits to those persons known to be in need of self protection and precluding a dangerous proliferation of handguns on the streets of Maryland,” King wrote.
Eight briefs were filed supporting the state. Those included filings by the American Public Health Association, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.
Woollard and the Second Amendment Foundation received support from 37 organizations, including the National Rifle Association of America, the Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund and 14 states.
The case is Woollard v. Gallagher, 12-1437, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Richmond, Virginia).
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