Federal Court Ruling #3 Upholds Conceal Carry Handgun Laws

Ray Woollard will have to keep his guns at home, now that the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Maryland can legally require him to state a "good and substantial reason" to carry a loaded handgun in public. He didn't have a good reason and his request for a conceal carry permit was denied.

The case marked the third time in four months that the federal courts have shot down attacks on state conceal carry permit laws brought by the pro-gun lobbies -- NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation. The cases are a setback for their mission to establish the right to carry loaded firearms in public places without any license at all.

Even worse for the gun lobbies, the Fourth Circuit ruling in Wollard v. Gallagher destroyed a lower court ruling saying that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms extends outside the home. This expanded notion of gun rights is not getting traction in any federal court.

So far:
  • The Second U.S. Circuit Court upheld last November 27 New York State's conceal carry law, which was very similar to Maryland's in that it required a showing of "proper cause" to get a permit. The case was Kachalsky v. Westchester.
  • The 10th U.S. Circuit Court ruled on February 22 in Peterson v. Martinez and shot down a challenge to the state conceal carry law, which limits permits to residents. In a sweeping ruling, the Court ruled that there is no Second Amendment right to carry a concealed firearm in public.
  • The Fourth Circuit expressly avoided saying anything about the extent of the Second Amendment in the Wollard case, making the case unappealable to the U.S. Supreme Court. It simply ruled on March 21 that the state's interest in protecting public safety and preventing crime justified the conceal carry permit law.
  • The Seventh U.S. Circuit ruled in Moore v. Madigan on December 11 that Illinois must enact a conceal carry permit law. It did so with a weak endorsement of the right to carry a loaded gun in public, saying that the Second Amendment "confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside." It is a bizarre opinion that also discusses having sex on the sidewalk and defending against hostile Indians in the 1800s.

Maryland's Conceal Carry Law

In Maryland, handgun permits are not needed to keep a gun in a person's own home or business. Nor are they required for law enforcement or active military personnel. People can move handguns to a repair shop, hunting, safety classes, target shoots and gun collection exhibitions -- without a permit.

But to carry a concealed weapon outdoors for self-defense, people must apply to the state police and show a "good and substantial reason" why a gun is needed for personal protection outside the home. Applicants must show more than a general fear of living in a dangerous society. They must face a threat that is likely, verified and particular to the applicant.

Ray Wollard got a permit after a family squabble where his son-in-law was high on drugs and broke into his house in 2002. He renewed it in 2006 but the state denied him a permit in 2009 because he hadn't had any contact with his son-in-law and couldn't document any threats.

The Fourth Circuit upheld that denial saying, "But as we move outside the home, firearm rights have always been more limited, because public safety interests often outweigh individual interests in self-defense." The Court said that the permit law was reasonably related to governmental goals of public safety and crime prevention.

What Next?

Time will tell where the NRA and SAF will extend their losing streak in the courts. The NRA's latest court gambit is to sue the Governor of New York to overturn the state's new gun control law. The complaint is a collection of weak arguments that the law is hurting gun sales, is reducing attendance at shooting competitions and insults common guns by calling them "assault weapons." It's mediocre legal thinking.

One this is certain: The NRA and SAF will continue to attack state and local safety laws as long and
they have funds to pursue their litigation hobby.