Judge blocks part of new Md. gun law that was about to take effect
Days before a new state law enacting broad restrictions on carrying firearms in public was set to take effect, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that will allow firearms in certain places — including some businesses that sell alcohol, private buildings and near public demonstrations.
The new law will still largely take effect on Sunday, limiting the ability to carry guns at a litany of other public places, including museums, health care facilities, school grounds, parks, mass transit facilities, government buildings, stadiums, race tracks, amusement parks and casinos.
The order and an accompanying 40-page opinion by U.S. District Court Judge George L. Russell III was issued Friday following multiple legal challenges to the Gun Safety Act of 2023, which was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Wes Moore (D) on May 16.
“We are pleased that the court upheld many of S.B 1’s common-sense provisions aimed at keeping Marylanders safe from the scourge of gun violence,” Jennifer Donelan, spokesperson for state Attorney General Anthony Brown (D), said in an email Friday. “The Office of the Attorney General will continue to vigorously defend all provisions of S.B. 1.”
General Assembly Republicans declared the preliminary injunction as a victory, as the broader case moves forward.
“The Court has recognized that so many of the restrictions the far-left wing of the General Assembly tried to place on lawful, peaceful gun owners went way beyond the bounds of what is constitutionally allowed,” said House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany). “During the debate on Senate Bill 1, the members of the House Republican Caucus repeatedly and exhaustively warned our Democratic colleagues that parts of this bill went too far.”
The legislature changed the state’s gun permitting process and placed restrictions on where guns may be carried in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which effectively struck down Maryland’s prior gun permitting laws that limited concealed carry permits.
Maryland’s new law created three broadly defined types of locations where people would be prohibited from carrying guns: areas for “children and vulnerable individuals,” “government or public infrastructure” areas, and a “special purpose area,” or places where the public gathers for entertainment, education or other social events.
The lawsuits challenging Maryland’s new law were filed on the same day Moore signed the bill into law, challenging its constitutionality and seeking to keep the law from taking effect.
Russell analyzed several restrictions included in the new law, concluding that most limitations would be lawful.
However, he also concluded that the new law, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, went too far in designating businesses that sell alcohol as sensitive places, and by prohibiting guns in all private buildings unless the owner gave specific consent to allow them.
Additionally, even though the law prohibits guns at public demonstrations “only in a narrow set of circumstances designed to promote public safety,” the Supreme Court would also likely find that provision unconstitutional, Russell concluded.
Under existing law, some restrictions would remain in place. Maryland law already bans carrying a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and businesses can continue to post bans on firearms.
“The devastating effects of firearm violence on Marylanders and United States citizens are self-evident. Enjoining enforcement of the Maryland firearm restrictions that either protect sensitive places or are consistent with historical regulations would undermine the public’s interest in preventing gun violence,” Russell wrote, in denying the rest of the claims by the plaintiffs.
Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, helped lead the effort to pass gun control and criminal justice reform bills in 2023.
“I certainly hope the attorney general will continue to fight to sustain the provisions in S.B. 1 as we passed it, as it made its way through the legislative process,” he said. “The part of about private property I think is an issue the courts are going to have to take a closer look at.”
The lawsuits also challenge the constitutionality of House Bill 824, sponsored by Clippinger, which establishes additional provisions on who can possess firearms and raises the age for a legal purchase from an adult to 21.
A joint status report on the case is due by the state and the plaintiffs within the next two weeks.
The lawsuits were filed by Susannah Warner Kipke, the wife of Del. Nicolaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel); the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association; Katherine Novotny, a member of gun rights advocacy group Maryland Shall Issue; two other gun rights organizations and two state residents.
William J. Ford contributed to this report.