2021 | Government

Local residents, businesses suing Montgomery County over ‘ghost gun’ restrictions

New law takes effect July 16

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This story was updated at 10:20 a.m. June 4, 2021, to add comments from County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz.

Six local residents and two area gun-related businesses are suing Montgomery County to overturn a law that limits the possession, sale and transfer of “ghost,” or undetectable, guns in the county.

“Ghost” guns are do-it-yourself firearms that have unfinished frames or receivers and do not contain a serial number. They are commonly made of plastic and fiberglass and cannot be detected by walk-through metal detectors at airports and other facilities. These guns can be bought without a background check.

In April, the County Council passed a law that prohibits people from transferring “ghost” guns to minors, storing the gun’s parts in a place accessible to minors, and transferring or selling firearms created with a 3D printer within 100 yards of a space of public assembly.

The law also requires the police department to file an annual report on the availability of “ghost” guns.

The restrictions take effect July 16.

The suit was filed on May 28 by Maryland Shall Issue, a nonprofit in Baltimore that advocates for firearm ownership rights. Maryland Shall Issue has about 2,000 members, some of whom live in Montgomery County, the lawsuit states.

The suit claims that the county’s restrictions do not comply with Maryland law, which allows individuals to manufacture firearms for personal use.

Both federal and Maryland law include in their definition of firearm “the frame or receiver of such a weapon,” according to the complaint.

“Maryland law does not define or regulate the possession, sale or transfer of ‘major components’ for firearms,” the lawsuit states.

Federal law already prohibits people from manufacturing, selling, having or transferring some types of firearms that are undetectable by a security screening device such as an x-ray at an airport, the lawsuit points out.

The plaintiffs also argue that Maryland law preempts the right of a locality to regulate the “purchase, sale, taxation, transfer, manufacture, repair, ownership, possession and transportation” of rifles, handguns, shotguns, ammunition or parts of a firearm. However, exceptions can be granted in regulations that involve minors, local law enforcement and areas within 100 yards of a place of public assembly, such as a park, school or church.

Mark Pennak, the attorney for the plaintiffs and president of Maryland Shall Issue, told Bethesda Beat on Thursday that he is concerned the county’s law is overly broad and raises constitutional issues.

“For example, [the county’s law] says you can’t possess a ghost gun or part of a ghost gun within 100 yards of a place where the public may assemble,” he said. “Now the state statute doesn’t say ‘may.’ It says where people ‘do’ assemble. … [The county law] basically took out all those modifiers and said where they ‘may’ assemble, which is virtually anywhere where two people can meet for lunch, including public sidewalks.”

Pennak added that he thinks the county’s law is “poorly thought out” and it’s not even clear how it would be enforced.

The plaintiffs from Montgomery County listed in the complaint are Deryck Weaver of Bethesda; Andrew Raymond of Darnestown; Nancy David, Ronald David, Joshua Edgar, Brandon Ferrell and I.C.E Firearms and Defensive Training of Gaithersburg; and Engage Armament of Rockville. A Frederick resident is also a plaintiff.

The lawsuit requests that a jury declare the county’s law unconstitutional and that an injunction be entered that bars the county from enforcing it. The plaintiffs also are asking for damages and attorney’s fees.

Pennak said on Thursday that the plaintiffs hope the court will grant a preliminary injunction before the law takes effect in July.

County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz, lead sponsor of the “ghost” gun bill, said in an interview he didn’t want to discuss specifics of the lawsuit, but added that the county attorney’s office would “vigorously” defend the law.

He noted that President Joe Biden mentioned “ghost” guns during a speech about gun violence earlier this year.

“He specifically called out ghost guns because of how dangerous they are, so until federal and state laws catch up with this technology, we as local governments must take action to address them and keep our communities safe,” Albornoz said.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for the county government, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Thursday that the county cannot comment on the lawsuit due to pending litigation.

Raymond, the owner of Engage Armament, referred questions from Bethesda Beat on Thursday to Pennak.

Staff writer Steve Bohnel contributed to this story.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com