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Lawsuit Against Maryland’s Restrictive Handgun Licensing Law Moves Forward

A federal judge ruled on Monday that a lawsuit against Maryland's law requiring a license to purchase a handgun could move forward after denying the bulk of the state's dismissal request.

In his ruling, Federal District Judge Marvin Garbis said the plaintiffs have standing to bring their case against the state's Handgun Qualification License (HQL) and ordered discovery in the case to move forward.

"Accepting the pleadings as true, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs allege adequate facts to present a plausible claim that the HQL Provision and regulations have deprived them (or their members or customers) of the Second Amendment right to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense," Garbis wrote in his ruling. "Accordingly, Count 1 shall not be dismissed."

The case stems from Maryland's law requiring those who want to purchase a handgun to obtain a license before doing so. In order to obtain the license, a Maryland resident is required to obtain training, submit an application to the state police, submit electronic fingerprint records to the state police, pay associated fees, and pass a background check. The same background check is also required when purchasing any firearm in the state, whether from a licensed dealer or in a sale between private individuals.

Maryland Shall Issue, a gun-rights group and one of the plaintiffs in the case, has criticized the law as unnecessary and discriminatory.

"It's redundant as to the current law which already commands that background check to be done," Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, told the Washington Free Beacon. "The whole idea, and I think this was the underlying intention, was to discourage, as much as possible, the exercise of your constitutional right to buy a handgun."

Pennak said the law places a particular burden on rural Marylanders who don't live near a facility that provides the required electronic fingerprinting services and urban Marylanders who don't live near a public gun range where they could complete the required live-fire training. He pointed out that Baltimore, Maryland's largest city, does not have a single public gun range within city limits.

Judge Garbis wrote that the arguments made by the plaintiffs were "sufficient to plead a Second Amendment claim," and the case should proceed.

"The Amended Complaint details the burdens associated with the application process, including the specific costs and the 27 or more days of wait time to receive an HQL," Garbis wrote in the ruling. "It is not necessary for a Plaintiff to explain why she specifically lacks the resources to pay for the application. Common-sense allows an inference that a person could be burdened in some capacity by the HQL application process, which could cost hundreds of dollars, requires at least four hours of training time, plus time spent on completing forms and getting fingerprints, and many days of wait time. These allegations are sufficient to plead a Second Amendment claim."

The judge did dismiss the plaintiffs' claim that the law's training requirement violated the 14th Amendment's due process protections because it provided no appeal process for those who've been denied training certificates by their instructors. The judge said the plaintiffs "failed to plausibly allege that the Instructor Certification Requirement violates procedural due process."

Pennak celebrated the ruling as a win for his group and the other plaintiffs in the case.

"Federal District Judge Garbis swept away the State's arguments and denied, in all important respects, the State's motion to dismiss," Pennak said in a message to supporters. "The Court first sustained the ‘standing’ of MSI and the other plaintiffs to bring this suit. The Court then held that the plaintiffs had stated fully sufficient claims that the HQL statute and the implementing State Police regulations violated the Second Amendment. The Court ruled as well that the complaint stated claim in alleging that the prohibitions or ‘receive’ or the ‘receipt’ on a handgun without an HQL were void for vagueness under the Due Process Clause. Finally, the Court also held that the complaint stated a proper claim that the State Police regulations were ‘ultra vires’ as in excess of statutory authority."

He said the ruling was just the beginning of litigation, though.

"These rulings were an important first step in the suit," Pennak said. "From here, the parties will move into the discovery phase of the litigation, which promises to be both expensive and very interesting."

The case now moves to the discovery phase which can take several months to complete before any ruling on the merits of the case is issued.