Wear and carry permit holders in Maryland’s most populous county may soon be able to take full advantage of their carry rights following a new state court ruling.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Ronald B. Rubin ruled in favor of a group of plaintiffs challenging the county’s local gun restrictions on Monday. He said that the county’s attempt to criminalize the possession of unserialized homemade firearm parts and ban public carry for valid permit holders in nearly all of its jurisdiction was preempted by state law.
“[T]he comprehensive and intertwined scheme of existing State regulation preempts Montgomery County’s efforts, through Chapter 57, to place additional legal hurdles on wear and carry permit holders, State licensed firearms dealers and privately made firearms,” he wrote in Maryland Shall Issue v. Montgomery County.
The ruling makes Montgomery County the latest jurisdiction impacted by the Supreme Court’s New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen decision to have its response to that decision struck down. Bruen invalidated subjective “may-issue” concealed carry laws of the kind formerly in effect in Maryland and recognized a general right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. Since that decision, most of the half-dozen or so formerly may-issue states, and several localities within those states, have retaliated with new gun-carry laws designed to limit the usefulness of the permits they are now forced to grant to legitimate applicants. Most of those Bruen-response laws have fared poorly in legal challenges thus far.
Chapter 57 of the Montgomery County Code, as amended by the county council last November, was Montgomery County’s attempt to head off the Bruen decision. It created new criminal penalties for carrying a firearm whether or not someone has a valid gun-carry permit within 100 yards of “a place of public assembly.” It defined those places broadly to include parks, schools, hospitals, places of worship, libraries, recreational facilities, fairgrounds, conference centers, and within the parking lots and grounds of those areas.
Judge Rubin found that the extensive nature of the restrictions functionally nullified the value of Maryland wear and carry permits, which he said are under the purview of the state rather than local government.
“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 firearm in the County, even when the individual held State issued concealed carry permit,” he wrote. “Chapter 57, as intended by the County, effectively bans the concealed carry of firearm in Montgomery County outside of one’s home or business, effectively nullifying State granted right to those who have applied for and received concealed carry permit by the Maryland State Police.”
The county’s amendments to Chapter 57 also criminalized the possession of any unserialized gun frame or receiver, which it defined as illegal “ghost guns” under its updated laws.
“Section 4-209(a) of the Criminal Law Article bars local legislation with respect to ‘the purchase, sale, taxation, transfer, manufacture, repair, ownership, possession, and transportation’ of firearms. Other provisions of Maryland law expressly preempt local laws regarding ‘regulated firearms,’ such as handguns,” he wrote. “It is plain that the challenged provisions 0f Chapter 57 do, and are intended to, regulate the ownership, transfer and possession of firearm under Section 4-209(a).”
“Under the case law, those decisions are for the General Assembly of Maryland, not a local county council,” he added.
Though he ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Montgomery County’s restrictions will remain in effect until a final order is issued. Judge Rubin ordered the parties to the case to meet within ten days to negotiate the wording of a final order concerning a permanent injunction and potential damages the county must pay.
Montgomery County did not respond to a request for comment.