An organization aimed at protecting and advocating for Second Amendment rights in Maryland says the County Council should reconsider its proposed legislation aimed at limiting the possession of guns in public spaces.
“If they pass this bill, it will not survive judicial review, there’s simply no way it will,” says Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, a non-partisan organization dedicated to the preservation and advancement of gun owners’ rights in Maryland, according to its website.
The bill, introduced Tuesday by council President Gabe Albornoz, states that a person must not “sell, transfer, possess, or transport” any type of ghost gun, rifle, shotgun, ammunition or major component of a firearm within 100 yards of a place of public assembly. Council staff have determined a place of public assembly to include a park, church, school, or similar public building or space.
That aspect of the bill is already included in county laws with several exceptions: law enforcement officers or security guards licensed to carry a firearm, people who have guns and live within 100 yards of places of public assembly and a business owner who has the permit to carry a firearm, among others.
The proposed bill strikes the current exemption for “… the possession of a handgun by a person who has received a permit to carry the handgun under State law.”
Advocates for the bill, including Albornoz, say striking the exemption is necessary to keep communities safe as they fear more guns in crowded, public spaces may lead to more violence.
But critics, including Pennak, say the bill would unfairly penalize law-abiding gun owners and that it won’t survive court challenges, especially given the recent Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al. v. Bruen.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, along with five other justices, determined that New York’s law requiring special proof for residents to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense violated the U.S. Constitution.
“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” Thomas wrote in the majority opinion. “That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.”
The court’s ruling makes it clear that carrying a firearm in public for self-defense is a constitutional right, Pennak said.
Christine Wellons, a legislative attorney who serves as the council’s lead counsel, deferred comment about the bill’s legality to the county attorney’s office. John Markovs, the acting county attorney, declined to comment through a county spokesman until after the public hearing for the bill, which is scheduled for July 26.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Takoma Park), who represents parts of Montgomery County, told reporters earlier this week that while he believed the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen was a “ludicrous straitjacket on the ability of jurisdictions to advance public safety,” critics of the law such as Pennak may have a legal argument if the council passes the bill, and it is challenged in court.
He emphasized that he hadn’t reviewed the county’s bill, but added that lawmakers need to be careful when drafting new legislation involving guns.
“There’s no reason for us to be passing ordinances that we know are going to be struck down under draconian and foolish new Supreme Court decisions,” Raskin said.
Maryland Shall Issue is suing the county over a bill sponsored last year by Albornoz and unanimously approved by the council that banned so-called “ghost guns” or otherwise untraceable firearms.
A hearing is scheduled at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court for further arguments in the case.
Pennak said his group doesn’t want to threaten to file another lawsuit if the council passes its latest proposal, but suggested that members listen to Raskin, and reconsider the bill.
“I’m just going to tell them that what they are doing is grossly in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision and highly illegal, and hope they come to their senses,” Pennak said.
County Executive Marc Elrich told reporters earlier this week that he and the county attorney’s office would work with the council if it is determined that the proposed bill needs to be tweaked.
In an interview, Council Member Will Jawando — who co-sponsored the bill — said he supports the legislation as proposed, arguing it is meant to protect county residents.
The Second Amendment is not an absolute right, Jawando said. Organizations such as Maryland Shall Issue have the right to legally challenge legislation, but it is the council’s job as policymakers to draft laws that enhance public safety, he added.
“Our residents want us to pass that bill,” Jawando said. “And if the misguided Supreme Court precedent ends up having an impact, then we’ll have to adjust.”
A public hearing for the bill is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. July 26.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org