On Tuesday, the Fourth Circuit Court, seated in Richmond, VA, issued a decision in the case Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. v. Wes Moore, striking down Maryland’s draconian “Handgun Qualification License” statute. The decision by the Fourth Circuit specifically named New York State Rifle & Pistol Association vs. Bruen in their decision. The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action supported the suit and the resulting decision.
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.
NRA challenged this law back in 2016. The case was originally dismissed, and then reinstated by the Fourth Circuit. Despite the Fourth Circuit’s reinstatement of the case, the trial court still upheld the HQL requirement on remand. NRA appealed again, and today the court unequivocally held that the law couldn’t pass muster under the Second Amendment: “The challenged law restricts the ability of law-abiding adult citizens to possess handguns, and the state has not presented a historical analogue that justifies its restriction; indeed, it has seemingly admitted that it couldn’t find one.”
Maryland’s Democrat Governor Wes Moore released a statement in reply, which states in part:
I am disappointed in the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision. This law is not about stripping away rights from responsible gun owners – it’s about every Marylander having the right to live free from fear.
It is important to note that Baltimore, which is (to belabor the obvious) Maryland’s largest city, has the 5th highest homicide rate of all U.S. cities in 2023. Baltimore also saw 7,041 violent crimes (reported) in 2022; if Maryland’s severe handgun licensing law was meant to reduce crime, it would appear that the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland may want to try something else because clearly, Marylanders are not “free from fear” at the moment.
The 4th Circuit decision, when discussing the Bruen decision’s impact on handgun laws in general says in part:
Bruen applied this framework to invalidate New York’s “may issue” licensing scheme for the concealed carry of handguns… It concluded that the proposed conduct at issue there, carrying handguns in public for self-defense, was presumptively protected by the Second Amendment because the petitioners were “law-abiding, adult citizens” and handguns are “weapons ‘in common use’ today for self-defense.”
This decision comes at a time when Second Amendment advocates are rightly worried about their rights being under attack. Gun sales in general are rising to record levels, not only for this reason but because of worries about increasing crime rates. In many of the nation’s big cities, Second Amendment rights are routinely abused or ignored; the Bruen decision has the potential to strike down not only this Maryland law but many other unconstitutional gun laws that arguably violate the Second Amendment and the strict-scrutiny requirement that applies to constitutional rights.
This is a win, but it’s a won battle; meanwhile, the larger fight for our Second Amendment rights will continue, the anti-Second Amendment activists will try other tactics, and Bruen will no doubt be invoked many more times.
You can read the entire 4th Circuit decision here.