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In federal appeals court, Maryland doctors groups support county law requiring safety, suicide prevention info during gun sales

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury.

A host of medical organizations have filed a brief in support of an Anne Arundel County law that requires informational literature regarding suicide prevention and conflict de-escalation be included during the sales of firearms as the policy is challenged in a federal appeals court.

Nationwide organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, as well as statewide groups such as The Maryland Psychiatric Society and MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, jointly filed the legal brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, urging the court to side with Anne Arundel County and allow the informational literature requirement to continue.

According to the amicus brief, the medical organizations “share the strong conviction, informed by their health care work and research, that the County… must be able to respond to the untenable levels of firearm violence, including suicide and violence against others, by distributing potentially life-saving information to gun purchasers regarding firearms, suicide prevention, conflict resolution, and secure firearm storage.”

Under the 2022 county law, gun retailers are required to distribute pamphlets created by the Anne Arundel County Health Department that offer information regarding suicide prevention, mental health, non-violent conflict resolution, and gun safety. Gun retailers are expected to display and distribute the literature with gun purchases under this law.

But the policy was challenged in the U.S. District Court of Maryland by four gun retailers and a nonprofit called Maryland Shall Issue, which advocates for the “preservation and advancement of gun owners’ rights.”

The plaintiffs argue that requiring gun retailers to provide such literature threatens their First Amendment rights with compelled speech by the county government. The retailers are trying to put an end the county law with the challenge. They are also seeking financial relief for nominal damages and attorneys’ fees if they win the case.

In March, the U.S. District Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher ruled in favor of the county, declaring that the informational literature requirement was lawful. Shortly thereafter, the gun retailers and Maryland Shall Issue sought an appeal to reverse the judge’s decision.

As the appellate process takes place, Anne Arundel County has a growing list of official support from a variety of sources, including gun control advocacy groups and Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) representing the State of Maryland.

“The State of Maryland has a critical interest in preventing suicide and works to create a strong network of prevention programs. It embraces intervention efforts from local governments,” according to Brown’s amicus brief. “Here, Anne Arundel County implemented a focused plan to increase awareness about suicide by getting factual information to firearms purchasers. Since firearms are the leading method of suicide in Maryland, this is an entirely [reasonable] approach. But rather than recognize the value in educating firearm owners about suicide risk factors and available prevention resources, the petitioners seek to limit the ability of local elected leaders to prevent suicides in their communities.”

According to a Monday press release from MedChi, one of the groups from the amicus brief supporting Anne Arundel County, appellate court’s ruling “will likely set a precedent over how far warning labels can go and what communities can do to increase public gun safety.”

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) said that the medical groups’ support of the county’s gun violence prevention efforts is significant.

“It demonstrates that doctors are willing to join forces with local government to address the gun violence epidemic that threatens our communities, even when that work is under attack by political organizations that seek to proliferate firearms,” Pittman said in a written statement.


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In federal appeals court, Maryland doctors groups support county law requiring safety, suicide prevention info during gun sales