The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a New York law that made it illegal to carry a firearm in public without showing a special need for protection — throwing into doubt the legal status of a similar Maryland law.
The court ruled that New York’s concealed carry law violates the 14th Amendment of the Constitution — a major decision that expands the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The opinion comes at the same time Congress is considering new gun control legislation following two deadly mass shootings.
In a 6-3 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Bruen, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court found that New York’s law requiring gun owners to demonstrate a need for self-defense in order to carry a firearm “is demanding.”
“[T]he Second and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home,” Thomas wrote.
The decision has the potential to make similar concealed carry laws unconstitutional in some states, including Maryland.
The ruling from the Supreme Court clears the way for legal challenges to Maryland’s restrictions, and state policymakers may have to change their current law to be in accord with the Supreme Court ruling.
State Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll), who has sponsored legislation in the past to make it easier for Marylanders to carry concealed weapons without needing to offer justification, said Thursday the Supreme Court ruling showed that Maryland has an “out-of-the mainstream statute restricting law-abiding citizens from possessing firearms.”
Ready noted that 42 states and Washington, D.C., are “shall issue” jurisdictions, meaning they permit concealed carry without requiring gun owners to show a special need, while 14 states do not require a permit to carry, wear, or transport a handgun.
“The Supreme Court’s common sense ruling shows that it is long past time we return the right of personal self-defense to the people of Maryland,” he said.
The Maryland State Police, which may need to change the way gun licenses are issued, released a terse statement said the Supreme Court decision is “under legal review. Additional information and guidance will be forthcoming.”
In an interview, former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (D) said it’s only a matter of time before Maryland’s current gun laws are overturned.
A candidate for governor, Gansler said the New York law that just got struck down relies on different phrasing than Maryland’s, but they’re essentially identical.
Once a challenge is filed, “the circuit court where [the case] will initially be held, in some county, will rely on this Supreme Court case, and it will be overturned,” he predicted.
Gansler said Maryland lawmakers will likely be able to place certain restrictions on who can own a weapon, including a prior criminal record, mental health issues or domestic violence allegations.
“It’s not the ‘Wild West’ in the sense that anybody can have one,” he said. “There are different standards that they can put into it, but it will be far easier to get a gun going forward.”
Democratic leaders who control the General Assembly said they “fundamentally disagree” with the high court’s decision and would examine their options before deciding how to respond.
“More guns in public means more violence, and more violence means more death and heartache everywhere. This is the wrong answer,” House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said in a joint statement. “The Second Amendment permits reasonable restrictions on the right to carry a firearm. We will be reviewing the opinion and, if necessary, pass legislation that protects Marylanders and complies with this brand-new precedent.”
Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) said the high court’s ruling with make streets more violent and will make law enforcement officers’ jobs more difficult.
“Maryland, like many other states, has enacted common sense gun laws that place the lives and safety of our residents first,” he said. “They have been proven to reduce gun violence. We will examine today’s ruling to determine its impact in our state, and we will continue to fight to protect the safety of Marylanders.”
The liberal wing of the Supreme Court — Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — dissented in the opinion on the New York case, with Breyer writing the dissent. They argued that states like Maryland should have the right to impose tough gun control measures.
“The question before us concerns the extent to which the Second Amendment prevents democratically elected officials from enacting laws to address the serious problem of gun violence,” Breyer wrote.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has shied away from most legislative battles over gun policy — though did veto a bill requiring background checks for person-to-person sales, rentals or transfers of shotguns and rifles, which was later overridden — did not issue a public statement on the Supreme Court ruling.
The campaign of Hogan’s preferred successor in this year’s gubernatorial election, former state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, released a statement saying she “it is unclear what this means for Maryland.”
“Kelly Schulz supports law abiding gun owners and has repeatedly made her position on these issues very clear,” said campaign spokesman Mike Demkiw. “Maryland has some of the toughest gun laws in the country and that won’t change when she is governor.”
Schulz’s principal opponent in the GOP primary for governor, state Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick), issued a message on Facebook praising former President Trump for his conservative Supreme Court picks. Trump has endorsed Cox’s gubernatorial bid.
“Thank you President Trump for your SCOTUS justices picks,” he wrote. “SCOTUS rules that denying carry permits unless ‘proper cause’ shown violates the Second Amendment. I believe Maryland must immediately comply and shall-issue permits and I call on the governor to issue such an order to the Maryland State Police complying with this ruling. I stand for constitutional carry and as governor I will ensure our constitutional rights are enforced.”
In statements, several Democratic candidates for governor expressed dismay with the court ruling, sounding similar tones.
Comptroller Peter Franchot called it an “outrageous ruling.” Author and former foundation CEO Wes Moore called it “a misguided and dangerous decision.” Former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said it was “a disastrous decision,” while former U.S. Education Secretary John King said the ruling “sets a dangerous precedent.” He recounted that just last week, one of his daughters was forced to hide under a desk in her classroom after a person with a gun was reported outside her high school.
Biden disappointed, Alito combative
President Biden said in a statement that he was disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision, and that “we must do more as a society — not less — to protect our fellow Americans.”
“I urge states to continue to enact and enforce commonsense laws to make their citizens and communities safer from gun violence,” Biden said. “For centuries, states have regulated who may purchase or possess weapons, the types of weapons they may use, and the places they may carry those weapons.”
The decision came as the Senate is moving to pass bipartisan gun control legislation by the end of this week. Some provisions would provide funding for states to enact their own red flag laws, which allow the courts to temporarily remove a firearm from an individual who poses a threat to themselves or others.
Breyer argued that states might enact different firearm laws based on their makeup. For example, a state like New York, where more than 8 million people live in the city, would have different laws than Montana or Wyoming, “which do not contain any city remotely comparable in terms of population or density,” Breyer said.
“I fear that the Court’s interpretation ignores these significant dangers and leaves States without the ability to address them,” Breyer wrote.
New York Mayor Eric Adams (D) said in a statement that the ruling will “put New Yorkers at further risk of gun violence.”
“We will work together to mitigate the risks this decision will create once it is implemented, as we cannot allow New York to become the Wild West,” Adams said.
Breyer criticized the court’s narrow historical approach, rather than taking into account the current gun violence epidemic and recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.
In Buffalo, a white supremacist targeted a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood and murdered 10 Black people. In Uvalde, a gunman targeted an elementary school and killed 19 children and two teachers.
“I fear that history will be an especially inadequate tool when it comes to modern cases presenting modern problems,” Breyer wrote.
But Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito questioned Breyer’s reasoning for bringing up the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde.
“And how does the dissent account for the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list took place in Buffalo?” Alito wrote. “The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop that perpetrator.”
Bruce DePuyt contributed to this story. The story was updated to include a comment from Kelly Schulz’s campaign.