A proposed handgun-licensing requirement proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley would be constitutional under the Second Amendment and under current Supreme Court case law, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said this week.
“Not only are the proposed handgun-license qualifications constitutional under the Second Amendment, but law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear,” Gansler said. “The qualifications do not allow for confiscation of guns nor could they under the Heller decision.”
The Heller v. District of Columbia decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 held that under the Second Amendment, an individual has the right to possess and carry a firearm, but was specific that the right was not unlimited.
The proposed handgun-licensing requirement would work under Heller, Gansler said. The Heller case also is at the heart of the legal challenge to Maryland’s concealed carry permit requirement. Last March, U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg ruled against the state’s issuing permits only to people who were able to show a need to carry a concealed weapon.
The state appealed that decision to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. It is unknown when the appellate court, which heard arguments on the case last year, will issue a ruling, Gansler said.
Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, who is a professor of constitutional law at American University, agreed with Gansler, saying the Heller decision offered an important level of clarity about the actual meaning of the Second Amendment.
“[It] gives people the right of self-defense with a handgun, at least in their home, and it gives people the right to a rifle for the purposes of hunting and recreation,” Raskin said. “[But] the court was clear that the Second Amendment does not give people a constitutional right to possess every firearm or weapon that exists.
“Once you get beyond the handgun and the rifle, all reasonable regulation is permissible, including prohibition,” Raskin said.
Licensing regulations, such as those proposed by O’Malley, are protected by the court’s decision, he said. Owning a firearm is a right “that has existed in conjunction with the government’s power to closely regulate gun ownership,” Raskin said.
Other fundamental rights are also subject to government regulation, he said.
“Look at the right to vote — you’ve got to register to vote, you’ve got to put your name on a list,” Raskin said. “You have the right to assemble, but if you’re going to bring 10,000 people to Annapolis or Washington, you’re going to have to get a permit to do it.”
Raskin also rejected claims by some gun-ownership advocates that the Second Amendment ensures a right to rebel against the government.
“There is no right in the Constitution of armed revolution,” Raskin said. “We settled that question in the Civil War.
“The Second Amendment is not a suicide pact,” Raskin said.
O’Malley (D) underscored the need for gun control in his State of the State address this week.
“We lose far too many American lives to gun violence,” he said. “Who can watch the sad images of the last several weeks, who can see the pictures of those young faces, and honestly say that we are doing enough?”
Del. Mike McDermott (R-Dist. 38B), a gun-ownership advocate, showed his frustration with O’Malley’s proposals by tearing up a copy of the Second Amendment during the governor’s speech.
Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton rejected the administration’s assertion that O’Malley’s proposals protect the rights of hunters and those who want handguns for protection.
“He’s including many semiautomatic firearms that hunters use,” Pipkin said, adding that the new licensing requirements such as fingerprinting and safety-training would cost money. “The only people in the state of Maryland who are going to be able to afford guns will be rich people,” Pipkin said.
Del. Michael J. Hough (R-Dist. 3) of Brunswick said O’Malley’s proposals are similar to laws that Connecticut had in place when 20 children and six adults were killed in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Governor O’Malley’s proposed gun control bill very closely mirrors the gun laws that were in place the day of the terrible tragedy in Newtown,” Hough said. “Like the governor’s bill, Connecticut had laws in place banning so-called ‘assault weapons’ and many types of semiautomatic rifles,” he said.
The state also has a handgun-licensing requirement similar to what O’Malley has proposed, Hough said.
He accused O’Malley and others of “misleading and frightening the public by giving them the false impression that automatic weapons and military-style weapons are available to the public, when they are not.”
Several gun shop owners across the state told The Gazette last week that they had sold out of semiautomatic assault rifles because the purchasers wanted them in the event the state or federal government banned their sale.
The restrictions proposed by O’Malley would not make people safer, Hough said.
“In fact, his bill will make us less safe by depriving law-abiding citizens of the ability to defend themselves by imposing overly burdensome requirements for those who wish to own handguns,” Hough said.
“There’s people who say the Second Amendment protects my rights to an assault rifle,” Gansler said. “Well, no it doesn’t. When the Second Amendment was written they were thinking of muskets.”
Republican lawmakers are scheduled to present alternatives to O’Malley’s proposals at a news conference Friday in Annapolis.