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Commentary Justice

As Discussion on Handgun Permit Board Continues, Some Things to Know

With respect to the Feb. 18 Maryland Matters article on the Handgun Permit Review Board some basic facts about the board, the law and crime in Maryland will inform the debate.

Persons hostile to the board and its role have argued that that board has overturned the Maryland State Police too often. Yet, as the article ably points out, the vast majority of those decisions were reversals on restrictions on permits that the state police have issued and thus have already found that the applicant has a “good and substantial reason” under Maryland law for carrying a handgun outside the home.

These people include business entrepreneurs carrying cash, security guards, private investigators and federal government employees with top security clearances and who are vulnerable to attack by foreign and domestic terrorists. Even the state police recognize that such individuals qualify for permits.

What is being left unsaid is that the restrictions placed on those permits by the state police are hopelessly vague and thus expose these individuals to a great risk of detention, arrest and incarceration whenever the permit holder has a chance encounter with a law enforcement officer, such as being pulled over for a broken tail light.

Under Maryland law, as amended in 2013, carrying outside the restrictions on the permit is the same thing as carrying without any permit at all. Before 2013, it was a mere administrative violation, with no criminal consequences. A conviction for the first offense is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The permit holder is thus faced with the Hobson’s choice: Either try to convince the officer that he or she is carrying within the restrictions, thereby forfeiting the right to remain silent and other constitutional rights or insisting on his or her constitutional rights and face an unlawful arrest for “lack of cooperation.”

That’s the street reality and that’s indefensible.

The review board quite properly has insisted that the restrictions not be vague. The state police simply refuse to do so, apparently preferring to leave these law-abiding citizens in legal peril. Shame on them.

The board has also been wrongly criticized for holding some of its hearings in closed session. Yet, virtually all of these hearings involve restriction cases where the permit holder is seeking to lift the restriction on an existing permit.

Maryland law expressly protects the confidentiality of these individuals who thus have every right to request closed sessions. See Maryland Code, General Provisions, § 4-325. These closed sessions are thus fully compliant with and, indeed, required by the Maryland’s open meeting statute in Maryland Code General Provisions § 3-305(b)(13). The board is just complying with the law.

Finally, people hostile to the board err in their premise that Maryland is safer because it restricts the right to carry to a truly tiny number of individuals who can meet the “good and substantial reason” requirement.

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia (yes DC!) are “shall issue” jurisdictions that provide permits to every law-abiding adult individual upon proof that the applicant has met objective requirements (such as training) and after conducting a background check. Yet, it is Baltimore that leads the nation with the highest per-capita murder rate.

The FBI violent crime statistics for 2017 — the latest available — confirm that Maryland citizens are far safer when in Virginia (shall issue) and Pennsylvania (shall issue) than they are at home.

Even gun control advocates admit that permit holders are the most law-abiding persons in America, with crime rates a fraction of those of commissioned police officers.

The January 2019 study published by the American College of Surgeons (hardly a gun group) demonstrated “no statistically significant association between the liberalization of state level firearm carry legislation over the last 30 years and the rates of homicides or other violent crime.”

The facts matter.

— Mark W. Pennak

The writer is president of Maryland Shall Issue, an all-volunteer, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the preservation and advancement of gun owners’ rights in Maryland.


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As Discussion on Handgun Permit Board Continues, Some Things to Know