Maryland's requirement that residents show a "good and substantial reason" before they're allowed a permit to carry a handgun is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled in early March.
"A citizen may not be required to offer a 'good and substantial reason' why he should be permitted to exercise his rights," wrote U.S. District Judge Benson Everett Legg. "The right's existence is all the reason he needs."
The common-sense nature of that statement should be obvious if the principle is applied to other liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Imagine being told Americans could exercise their freedoms of speech or religion only if they first acquired a state "permit," which would be issued only after they submitted to fingerprinting and a "background check," and then only if they could demonstrate a "good and substantial reason" why they needed to speak at a political meeting, pen a letter to the editor, attend services at their church or temple.
But even beyond that, because Maryland's stated goal was to minimize the number of firearms carried outside the home, its demand that petitioners demonstrate "good reason" had turned the state's scheme into a rationing system, Judge Legg found.
"In support of this limitation, Defendants list numerous reasons why handguns pose a threat to public safety in general and why curbing their proliferation is desirable," he wrote. "For example, they argue that an assailant may wrest a handgun away from its owner." ... They note that when a police officer is engaged in a confrontation with a criminal, the presence of an armed civilian can divert the officer's attention. ...
"These arguments prove too much," the judge continued. "While each possibility presents an unquestionable threat to public safety, the challenged regulation does no more to combat them than would a law indiscriminately limiting the issuance of a permit to every tenth applicant."
Would it be permissible for government to decide only one citizen in 10 is protected from illegal, warrantless search and seizure? That only one in 10 gets a jury trial if accused of a crime? Those guarantees show up in the same place as the "uninfringeable right to keep and bear arms."
"The solution, then, is not tailored to the problem it is intended to solve," Judge Legg concluded. "Maryland's good and substantial reason requirement will not prevent those who meet it from having their guns taken from them, or from accidentally shooting themselves or others, or from suddenly turning to a life of crime."
The case arose because plaintiff Raymond Woollard obtained a handgun permit after fighting with an intruder in his Hampstead, Md., home in 2002, but was denied a renewal in 2009 because he couldn't show he'd been subject to any new "threats occurring beyond his residence."
Woollard appealed, but was rejected by the review board, which found he hadn't demonstrated a "good and substantial reason" to carry a handgun.
The suit filed on Woollard's behalf in 2010 by the Second Amendment Foundation argued Maryland had no specific reason to deny the renewal and wrongly put the burden on Woollard to show why he still "needed" to carry a gun.
"People have the right to carry a gun for self-defense and don't have to prove that there's a special reason for them to seek the permit," argued Woollard's attorney, Alan Gura, who has now successfully challenged handgun bans in the District of Columbia and Chicago. "We're not against the idea of a permit process, but the licensing system has to acknowledge that there's a right to bear arms."
"Momentum is moving in our direction," concludes Alan M. Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the foundation, which has filed several such suits across the nation.
"As Judge Legg correctly ruled, the burden should be on the government to prove that an American is unfit to exercise this Constitutional right," Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, the western Maryland Republican, told the Washington Post.
The gentlemen's positions are certainly preferable to that of Maryland Assistant Attorney General Matthew Fader, who will appeal the ruling in the supposed interest of "public safety." But — while I understand it may be politically pragmatic — I still can't agree with Gura's "We're not against the idea of a permit process."
A "permit" to exercise out rights under the 2nd and 14th amendments is no more palatable than a "free speech permit" or a "freedom of religion permit." Get rid of them. Our firearm permits were written in blood, more than 200 years ago.
Meantime, On A Campus Near You
On the same day as the Maryland ruling above — March 5 — the Colorado state Supreme Court ruled the University of Colorado overstepped its authority when the school's board of regents imposed a ban on carrying concealed weapons at its four campuses, Reuters reports.
In overturning the policy, the court said a concealed-carry law passed by the state Legislature trumped the school's ban because it did not carve out an exception for the state's major university.
"We hold that the (concealed carry law's) comprehensive statewide purpose, broad language, and narrow exclusions show that the General Assembly intended to divest the Board of Regents of its authority to regulate concealed handgun possession on campus," the court held.
"This is a victory for gun rights as well as civil rights," declared James Manley, an attorney with the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which sued on behalf of three students with concealed carry permits who challenged the ban after being told their permits were no good on campus. "The University of Colorado has to follow state law and the regents can't ignore that."
"We're disappointed that the state supreme court has taken away what the university believed was its statutory and constitutional authority to provide for the safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors," said Ken McConnellogue, spokesman for the university — implying, as usual, that everyone is safer when law-abiding citizens and even off-duty peace officers are stripped of the right to defend themselves and others against an armed berserker.
Currently, 22 states ban the carrying of concealed weapons on college campuses, according to Reuters; the National Conference of State Legislatures reports Utah is the only state that explicitly forbids the banning of concealed weapons at its 10 public colleges and universities.
Last year, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the state university system's ban on carrying guns on campus, the conference said.
McConnellogue said the regents would meet with the university's legal counsel to decide how to comply with the ruling "while maintaining security on campus."
Where The Scenery's Attractive And The Air Is Radioactive
Meantime, here in Nevada, at least one public interest law firm is looking into the possibility of a similar suit.
Unless an April 20 special meeting comes to fruition, Patrick Mendez — a corrections officer for the Nevada Department of Prisons and thus a sworn peace officer — hopes to testify May 31 or June 1 at the Southern Nevada meeting of the state board of regents about gun policies on state college and university campuses.
Mendez, who filed in early March to run an uphill GOP race for state Assembly in the 17th District, has been in touch with me for some months now about his efforts to get the college police chief and — ultimately — College of Southern Nevada president Michael D. Richards to give peace officers permission to carry their sidearms (concealed if necessary) to classes at the college.
Readers of this column likely don't need more convincing that law-abiding off-duty police and "civilian" permit holders have stopped a number of would-be mass murderers — stymied them entirely or at least cut short their rampages — either by carrying concealed or by racing to their cars to get their legally stored guns. (If you do, look up the shootings at Pearl, Miss., at the Appalachian Law School, at Colorado's New Life Church; or check out John Lott's book The Bias Against Guns. And note these proud examples of citizen self-defense occurred despite the fact most schools and colleges in America remain "self-defense-free zones.")
But Mendez has met with nothing but intransigence as he has dutifully brought his case "up the ladder" at the urban school known till recently as the "Community College of Southern Nevada."
"You can be certain I'll support him," Northern Nevada Regent Ron Knecht tells me via e-mail — though he described as "iffy" the current chance of getting a seven-member majority of the Nevada board to OK even this limited an embrace of the 2nd and 14th amendments.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of the novel The Black Arrow and Send in the Waco Killers. See www.vinsuprynowicz.com.