Monday, November 27, 2023

Federal Appeals Court Overturns Maryland Handgun Purchase Law as Unconstitutional



In a landmark decision on November 21, 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found Maryland's recent handgun purchase law unconstitutional, as it unduly delays and complicates the legal acquisition of handguns. The court highlighted that the law, especially the 2016 add-on, impedes the Second Amendment right to obtain a handgun. The opinion states:

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"Before purchasing a handgun, additional preliminary steps must be taken: obtaining a ‘handgun qualification license’ requiring a background check, fingerprints, and a four-hour safety course with live firing. This additional license requirement, challenged by the plaintiffs, violates the Second Amendment as Maryland has not presented a historical justification for such a restriction. Consequently, we reverse the district court's decision and enjoin the enforcement of this law."

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The panel was divided, with two judges in favor of the majority opinion and one dissenting. The dissenting judge, Barbara Milano Keenan, argued that "infringe" implies total destruction, a contention that was refuted by Judge Richardson who referred to historical dictionary definitions that equate "infringe" with "hinder" or "obstruct for a time."

From footnote 8, page 11, Richardson clarifies: "Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster's dictionaries define 'infringe' as 'to destroy; to hinder,' with 'hinder' meaning 'to obstruct for a time.' This interpretation aligns with historical sources like St. George Tucker's Blackstone's Commentaries and the Nunn v. State ruling, emphasizing the unqualified nature of the right to keep and bear arms."

In contrast, Judge Keenan's dissent (footnote 9, page 36) interprets "infringe" as a total violation or destruction, suggesting a different understanding of the term within the Second Amendment.

The ruling opens the possibility for further appeals, including an en banc review by the Fourth Circuit or even a Supreme Court hearing. The decision emphasizes the ongoing debate over the interpretation of "shall not be infringed" within the Second Amendment, with contrasting views on the extent of governmental power in regulating firearms.

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