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Suit Forces Maryland to Clarify Gun Transfer Rules

Monday, June 24, 2013

With Maryland residents forced to wait up to 10 weeks for the approval of an application for the transfer of regulated firearms” (handguns or certain semi-automatic long-guns), in mid-June the Maryland State Police and Attorney General finally clarified their position on the state law governing the transfer process. The state was forced to do so by an NRA-sponsored lawsuit filed on behalf of several Maryland residents, along with groups including Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association and Maryland Shall Issue. 

Like many of their counterparts in the rest of the country, in late 2012 and into 2013, Maryland residents--rightly fearful of new restrictions on their right to keep and bear arms--purchased firearms in record numbers. But unlike in most states, purchases of handguns or certain semi-automatic long-guns in Maryland require a seven-day waiting period, during which a background check is conducted by the state police. Unprepared for such demand, the Maryland State Police soon became backlogged with applications, forcing prospective gun buyers to wait months to have their purchases approved in some cases.

On May 10, a complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief was filed on behalf of Maryland’s gun owners and firearms dealers, against Secretary of the Department of State Police Col. Marcus. L. Brown. Under Maryland law, “[i]f the Secretary disapproves a firearm application, the Secretary shall notify the prospective seller, lessor, or transferor in writing within 7 days after the date that the executed firearm application is forwarded to the Secretary.” The complaint made clear that Maryland’s failure to live up to this obligation, “burdened impermissibly the fundamental constitutional rights” of Maryland gun owners “to purchase and keep firearms for the purposes of self-defense in their homes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.” Further, the complaint noted that Maryland’s firearms dealers, represented by MLFDA, suffered economic harm from “having many thousands of dollars in inventory tied up for months at a time while awaiting receipt of notices regarding” customers’ fi               rearms applications.

The suit asked the court to force the state into making determinations on all applications within the seven days provided by law, and to immediately make determinations on the applications which have been pending for more than seven days. The suit also contended that in the case of an application which has been pending longer than seven days, a firearms dealer should be allowed to conduct the transaction prior to receiving a determination from the state police, without fear of prosecution or liability should the purchaser later be found to be prohibited from possessing a firearm.

In response, Maryland admitted that it was unable to keep up with firearm transfer applications. But in order to avoid litigation, in mid-June the Maryland State Police and Attorney General clarified its official position that under Maryland law a handgun or semi-automatic long-gun transfer from a firearms dealer may take place after seven days, if a dealer has not received notice of a determination on the purchaser’s application, without a dealer having to fear future punishment. The state police also gave the court a sworn statement that it is adding additional employees to help process firearms applications more efficiently in the near future. With these two concessions from the state, the lawsuit was withdrawn.

Maryland’s forced acknowledgement, which will help ameliorate the unacceptable delays experienced by its residents, is a great victory for gun owners in the sometimes seemingly misnamed “Free State,” and serves as a testament to the effectiveness of well-targeted NRA-sponsored litigation. Further, the entire episode shows some of the reasons why NRA vehemently opposes enactment of waiting period laws in the first place.

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