Maryland’s requirement of a background check and firearm-safety course for those wanting to acquire a handgun is in danger because no similar regulation existed before the 1900s, appeals court judges indicated Friday in arguments on the regulation. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that to restrict gun possession, “the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” through the end of the 19th century. Two of three judges on a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit suggested that they did not believe Maryland’s regulations could pass that test, reports the Washington Post. “You have no founding-era statute that’s an analogue to what Maryland does here,” said Judge G. Steven Agee. The pro-gun advocacy group Maryland Shall Issue challenged the law in 2016, three years after it was passed by state lawmakers.
A district court judge ruled against the group in 2021; before the Supreme Court’s new standard was set, the case was on appeal. When Judge Barbara Milano Keenan suggested that the case could be sent back to the district court for further historical analysis, Judge Julius Richardson said he was “certain” the state had done “the best you can do.” Under Maryland’s law, obtaining a handgun means first applying for a permit, which is approved within a week; getting fingerprinted for a background check, which can take up to a month; undergoing four hours of firearm-safety training and paying a $50 fee. Ryan Dietrich, an assistant attorney general of Maryland, argued that there was a “robust historical tradition” of both “firearm competency” and of “ensuring that dangerous, subversive, non-virtuous … folks do not get deadly firearms.” He pointed to post-American Revolution laws disarming citizens who would not swear their loyalty to the American republic and training requirements for Colonial militias. The state argued that the law has “led to drastically reduced firearm homicide rates in large urban counties with the exception of Baltimore City.” Richardson suggested that, because most homicides in Maryland occur in Baltimore, that statistic was meaningless.