The U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed gun-rights advocates by letting stand a Maryland law that requires people to show a special need for protection to get a permit for carrying a handgun in public.
Six months after leaving intact a similar New York law, the justices today turned away an appeal by a Maryland man who was denied renewal of his permit to carry a handgun. A federal appeals court upheld the law in March, saying it was a reasonable effort to protect public safety and prevent crime.
The rejection, at least for the time being, keeps the justices out of the fray over the constitutional right to bear arms. The nation’s highest court hasn’t considered a Second Amendment case since 2010, when it said people have a right to have a handgun in the home for self-defense purposes.
Under the appeals court ruling, “the Second Amendment has no practical impact beyond the threshold of one’s home,” argued Raymond Woollard, the Maryland man who challenged the law along with the Bellevue, Washington-based Second Amendment Foundation. The National Rifle Association also backed the appeal.
Maryland is one of six states that generally require people to make special showing to get a carry permit. The state’s requirement doesn’t apply to police officers, prosecutors, judges and security guards.
The law protects citizens by “decreasing the availability of handguns to criminals via theft, lessening the risk that basic confrontations will turn deadly and reducing escalations of routine police encounters with citizens into high-risk situations,” Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler argued in court papers.
The court will have more chances to take up a Second Amendment case in its current nine-month term. An appeal filed by the NRA challenges a federal law that bars licensed dealers from selling a handgun to anyone under age 21.
Federal appeals courts have reached different conclusions on laws that restrict public possession. Another appeals court struck down an Illinois law that went further than Maryland’s and barred most people from carrying a loaded weapon, with no exception for those demonstrating a special need for protection.
A third court in August upheld New Jersey’s requirement that people show a “justifiable need” to get a carry permit.
The legal disagreement stems from ambiguities in a 2008 Supreme Court decision that, for the first time, said the Constitution protects an individual right to bear arms. That ruling focused on gun rights in the home, striking down a District of Columbia handgun ban. The 2010 case also involved in-home possession.
In the Maryland case, the three-judge panel said it would assume the Second Amendment’s protections apply outside the home. The appeals court upheld the law anyway, saying Maryland’s public-safety goals were legitimate and the restrictions were a “reasonable fit.”
Woollard received a carry permit in 2003, shortly after a violent confrontation involving his son-in-law in Woollard’s house on a farm outside Baltimore. Woollard got a renewal in 2006, just after the son-in-law was released from prison.
Woollard sued after his bid for a second renewal was rejected in 2009. The son-in-law committed suicide this year after a standoff with police.
Maryland’s law instructs police to issue carry permits to people with a “good and substantial reason,” such as “a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger.” Carrying an unlicensed handgun is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by as much as three years in prison.
The two sides disagree about the effect of the Maryland law. The state says that it approved 94 percent of original and renewal permit applications from 2007 to 2011 and that a board appointed by the governor reversed 38 percent of the denials over the past 20 years.
Woollard’s lawyers say those numbers ignore the people who don’t submit an application because they expect to be denied. Only 0.3 percent of the Maryland population age 20 and over have carry licenses, compared with 8.3 percent in neighboring Pennsylvania, the appeal says.
The case is Woollard v. Gallagher, 13-42.
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