Maryland Gun Control Law is Latest Answer to Supreme Court Ruling

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Maryland’s governor has signed a new law aimed at responding to a Supreme Court ruling that has transformed the gun control battle in the United States.

The raft of bills signed by Governor Wes Moore on Tuesday includes a measure to prevent someone from carrying a concealed handgun in designated areas, like schools and hospitals.

But it removes language that said a person must show “good and substantial reason” to carry a concealed firearm outside of the home — language that could be challenged under a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The Maryland state law is the latest response to last June’s Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v Bruen, a case that directly challenged a New York state law requiring gun owners to prove they had a special need to carry a firearm in public.

The court ultimately deemed New York’s law unconstitutional, saying the right to carry a gun extends beyond the home. The ruling has since been used to curtail other gun control measures around the US.

“Gun violence is tearing apart the fabric of our communities, not just through mass shootings but through shootings that are happening in each of our communities far too often,” Moore, a Democrat, said at Tuesday’s bill-signing ceremony.

“In Maryland, we refuse to say these problems are too big or too tough,” Moore added. “We will act, and that’s exactly what today represents.”

Much like legislation passed by the state of New York in the wake of the Bruen ruling, Maryland’s law seeks to carve out “sensitive places” where gun carry can still be banned.

One of the bills signed by the governor prohibits most people from wearing, carrying or transporting a concealed gun in an “area for children or vulnerable adults,” like a school or health care facility.

It also limits people from carrying a firearm in a “government or public infrastructure area” or a “special purpose area”, which is defined as a stadium, museum, racetrack, casino or place licensed to sell alcohol or cannabis.

The new law, which takes effect October 1, includes certain exceptions for military members, law enforcement and security guards.

Like in New York state, pro-gun groups have promised to challenge the Maryland measure, with Mark Pennak, president of the pro-gun Maryland Shall Issue group, saying on Tuesday that a lawsuit is drafted and “ready to go”.

That same day, in nearby New Jersey, gun rights groups scored a victory when a federal judge barred enforcement of a law that would prohibit handguns from being carried in certain “sensitive” places like zoos, bars and restaurants.

Ongoing effects of Bruen

Maryland is the latest instance of how the Bruen ruling has left states with stricter gun control measures racing to determine how to limit the concealed carry of weapons in public.

But the Bruen ruling has had wider implications over gun control in general, leading to an explosion of court cases seeking to strike down decades-old gun control laws.

In his majority opinion, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas said that gun carry can be banned in some “sensitive places” if they can be proven analogous with locations considered sensitive in US history.

However, he also said that a government must justify any restrictions on the Second Amendment’s constitutional right to bear arms “by demonstrating that it is consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation”.

“Historical tradition”, Thomas explained, must be rooted in measures that were in place when the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791 or even when the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. That amendment decrees that state laws cannot override federal ones.

The Bruen ruling has been used as recently as last week to strike down federal laws that blocked handgun sales to adults between the ages of 18 and 21. In his decision, federal judge Robert Payne of Virginia declared that the age restriction was “not consistent with our nation’s history and tradition”.

Legal observers have said the Bruen ruling has led to widespread confusion among judges, with several federal courts issuing conflicting rulings on the same issue. Prior to the Virginia ruling, a federal judge in Louisiana had upheld the same federal age restriction.

Another ruling by a federal district judge in February struck down a federal restriction that banned people under a domestic abuse protective order from owning a gun. That, in turn, contradicted several other rulings on the matter in federal courts.

The US Justice Department has petitioned the Supreme Court to take on that case.

Source: Al Jazeera