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Maryland Forced to Clarify Firearm Transfer Rules

Friday, January 17, 2014

Last June, an NRA-sponsored lawsuit helped provide some relief to beleaguered Maryland gun owners by forcing the Maryland Attorney General and State Police to clarify rules regarding the transfer of regulated firearms (handguns and some semi-automatic rifles and shotguns). At the time, Marylanders were faced with, in some cases, a 10-week wait for the State Police to process applications for regulated firearms. Firearm sales were especially brisk, given that the state had recently enacted an expansive gun control law that upon taking effect would result in further restrictions upon many regulated firearms. The suit forced the state to acknowledge that gun dealers could lawfully transfer a firearm to a prospective buyer after seven days, regardless of whether the State Police had responded to the dealer on the buyer’s background check.  

In Maryland, purchasers of handguns and certain semiautomatic long-guns are required to fill out an additional 77R application, go through an additional state police background check, and are subject to a seven-day waiting period. In the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley succeeded in enacting severe new laws burdening gun owners, including a ban on popular semi-autos and a licensing requirement for future handgun purchasers. In response, Marylanders raced to purchase these firearms before the new laws went into effect. This crush of gun buyers, coupled with Maryland’s already onerous, redundant, and inefficient background check system, created an untenable mess for purchasers, causing delays in the processing of applications that were significantly longer than the seven-day waiting period, in many cases by months.

Maryland law requires the state police to process regulated firearms applications within seven days , stating, “[i]f the Secretary disapproves a firearm application, the Secretary shall notify the prospective seller, lessor, or transferor in writing of the disapproval within 7 days after the date that the executed firearm application is forwarded to the Secretary by certified mail or facsimile machine.” The severe backlog was a violation of state law.

In order to remedy the situation, an NRA-back suit was filed on May 10, 2013, against Secretary of the Department of State Police Col. Marcus L. Brown. The complaint sought to have the court force the state into meeting the requirement that applications be processed within seven days, and to make immediate determinations on all applications that had already been in the backlog more than seven days. Further, the suit argued for the state to recognize that gun dealers be allowed to transfer firearms to purchasers whose application had been pending more than seven days but had yet to be processed. 

Rather than fight the suit, Maryland acknowledged the unacceptable backlog and made a sworn statement to the court noting that the state was hiring new employees to handle the tremendous volume of applications. Further, the state made clear that gun dealers are allowed to transfer regulated firearms to customers following the seven day waiting period, but prior to receiving a determination on the purchaser’s application from the state police. A June 7th press release from the state police noted, “a regulated firearm may be lawfully sold, leased or transferred by a licensed firearms dealer or other person after the seven-day waiting period, provided that the dealer or person has not received notice that the application has been placed on hold or disapproved by Maryland State Police (Public Safety Article Sec. 5-125(b)) and the dealer or person does not have actual knowledge or reasonable cause to believe that the recipient is disqualified from possessing a regulated firearm under Maryland or federal law.” Following these actions, the lawsuit was dropped.

Maryland’s acknowledgement on gun transfers acts as an important safety valve to prevent the use of bureaucratic foot-dragging as gun control. The state’s experience also serves as an important example of why NRA works to eliminate redundant state-level background checks and opposes state and federal laws criminalizing private transfers. When government clearance is required to own a firearm, and that clearance is not forthcoming in a timely manner, it severely burdens the Second Amendment right-to-self-defense, with potentially dangerous consequences for the individual left unarmed.

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