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Judge: Montgomery County gun law preempted by state law

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Judge: Montgomery County gun law preempted by state law

Nov 28, 2023 | 5:23 pm ET
By Bryan P. Sears
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Judge: Montgomery County gun law preempted by state law
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Alex Wong/Getty images via Michigan Advance.

A Montgomery County law placing limits on firearms oversteps state laws, according to a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge.

Judge Ronald B. Rubin, in a decision issued Monday, said he will issue a permanent injunction blocking portions of the local law.

“In summary, the comprehensive and intertwined scheme of existing state regulation preempts Montgomery County’s efforts…to place additional legal hurdles on wear and carry permit holders, state licensed firearms dealers and privately made firearms,” Rubin wrote in a 21-page decision.

Rubin added that state law “simply does not allow a county effectively to nullify nearly all other state firearms rights and restrictions, at least not in the manner attempted in this instance. The court concludes that the challenged provisions of [county law] conflict with and are preempted by state law. A political subdivision in Maryland simply cannot prohibit (save for a very narrow band of activity not challenged here) what is expressly permitted by state law. To hold otherwise would allow a municipality to substitute its will for that of the General Assembly.”

The ruling was a victory in part for the state, which asked the judge to dismiss Maryland Shall Issue from the case. Rubin agreed that the Second Amendments rights group lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. That decision left nine Montgomery County residents who are owners or employees of Engage Armament, a Montgomery County firearms dealer, as well as other licensed gun owners and instructors, as well as the former head of security for a Montgomery County synagogue.

A spokesperson for Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The decision represents the second blow to firearms laws passed in Maryland in less than a week.

“What got tossed was everything in conflict with or inconsistent with state law, and that includes the restrictions placed on carry by permit holders along with the county’s separate bans on privately made firearms,” said Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, in a statement on the group’s website. “It’s a huge win.”

Last week, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling declaring the state’s Handgun Qualification License unconstitutional.

Local and state governments in Maryland and elsewhere have scrambled to find ways to place limits on firearm ownership following the 2022 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.

The nine plaintiffs in the Montgomery County case filed their suit in spring of 2021 attempting to block portions of a newly passed county law that sought to impose stricter regulations on firearms.

The county moved the initial lawsuit to federal court. A U.S. District Court judge remanded the county law portions back to Circuit Court but retained portions of the case challenging the law under the Second Amendment.

Before the state court could act, the U.S Supreme Court issued its decision in Bruen, prompting the plaintiffs to amend the county case. The county sought to move the case back to federal court.

Five months later, the Montgomery County Council passed additional legislation expanding firearms restrictions. Again, a federal judge remanded portions of the amended complaint back to state court.

Montgomery County’s law, as enacted, prohibited the possession of privately manufactured firearms and components including slides and barrels unless they have serial numbers. The prohibition was an effort to ban so-called “ghost guns.”

The county law also expanded the definition of a “public places of assembly” to include within 100 yards of any publicly or privately owned place of assembly including schools, daycare centers, libraries, and businesses with the distance measured from the edge of related parking lots. Second amendment advocates said the restrictions in the law effectively made legally carrying or transporting a firearm anywhere in the county illegal.

The judge agreed.

Rubin, in his decision, said the definition in county law “sweeps too broadly” and is preempted by state law.

“In the court’s view, and as counsel for the county conceded at oral argument, the county wanted, among other things, to largely eliminate the state granted right to wear and carry a firearm in the County, even when the individual held a state issued concealed carry permit,” Rubin wrote.

He added that the county law “as intended by the County, effectively bans the concealed carry of a firearm in Montgomery County outside of one’s home or business, effectively nullifying a state granted right to those who have applied for and received a concealed carry permit by the Maryland State Police.”