Hogan’s decision to lift gun restrictions roils state politics

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Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s decision Tuesday to lift restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in Maryland in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion left policymakers scrambling, and has created another potentially divisive political issue with Marylanders already voting in their party primaries.

One day after mass shootings at a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb and a fireworks display in Philadelphia, Hogan (R) announced Tuesday that he had directed the Maryland State Police, which issues gun licenses in the state, to suspend what’s known as the “good and substantial reason” standard for carrying concealed weapons. Hogan’s directive means Maryland gun owners no longer have to offer a justification for carrying concealed firearms.

The Supreme Court on June 23 struck down a New York law that made it illegal to carry a firearm in public without showing a special need for protection — effectively throwing out a similar Maryland statute.

Both supporters and foes of the Maryland law said it would only be a matter of time before someone successfully sued to overturn it.

“It would be unconstitutional to continue enforcing this provision in state law,” Hogan asserted Tuesday.

In separate statements, Hogan and the Maryland State Police said nothing else about state firearms regulations would change — and that Marylanders would still need to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The Maryland State Police Licensing Division, the agency said, is in the process of updating its licensing portal for applicants. Sixteen hours worth of firearms training are still required for first-time applicants, while those renewing their permits still need to take eight hours of training sessions.

“The Maryland State Police Licensing Division staff will continue to promptly investigate and approve those eligible for a wear and carry permit, while ensuring those prohibited by law are not approved,” the agency said in a statement. “A full background check will continue to be conducted for every individual applying for a wear and carry permit. Additional documentation such as military service records or other documentation as requested may still be required to complete an applicant background investigation.”

The agency did not elaborate on how it intended to implement the new licensing requirements.

Hogan said his decision “is in line with actions taken in other states in response to the recent ruling.”

But New York in fact moved swiftly to mitigate some of the provisions of the Supreme Court decision. Just a week after the court ruling, the legislature passed — and Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law — a measure that expands on eligibility requirements in the concealed carry permitting process; restricts the carrying of concealed weapons in sensitive locations like schools, government buildings, airports, health and medical facilities and houses of worship, among others, and establishes that private property owners must expressly allow a person to possess a firearm on their property; and creates a statewide license and ammunition database.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) promised that the General Assembly would enact similar legislation during its next session, which is scheduled for January.

“Now more than ever in history, we must pass laws protecting all Marylanders from potential gun violence,” he said. “The lethality of the weapons available for purchase has never been greater, and our laws must accurately reflect their danger.”

On Twitter, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said House members “between now and January…will look at every option to curb the proliferation of guns on the streets.”

Between this recent Supreme Court decision on gun possession and another striking down the federal Roe v. Wade abortion rights law — along with ongoing calls to address rising gasoline prices — pressure may be mounting on the legislature to go into special session sometime after the state’s primaries are completed on July 19. Mail-in ballots began arriving at voters’ homes about two weeks ago, and early in-person voting starts on Thursday.

It is unclear whether Hogan’s directive will immediately go into effect or whether it will require sign-off from a legislative committee that oversees state regulation. Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor was moved to order the change in policy after conferring with the state Attorney General’s office in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling.

In an interview, Del. Samuel Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City), co-chair of the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review, said he was seeking guidance on whether the legislative panel had a role in reviewing Hogan’s order.

Rosenberg said the new New York law might make a good model for Maryland.

“They’ve enacted legislation in an area left out in the ruling by the [Supreme] court — such as special places where you can’t carry a concealed weapon,” he said.

Advocates and policymakers react

Hogan’s directive won plaudits from Republicans, conservatives and gun owners’ groups and was roundly criticized by Democrats and gun control advocates.

Former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, Hogan’s choice to succeed him in this year’s gubernatorial election, called the governor’s decision “the right call.”

“Repeat violent offenders who commit crimes with illegal guns are the problem, not law-abiding citizens,” she said.

House Minority Leader Jason Buckel (R-Allegany) said Republicans in Annapolis have long argued that the state’s “good and substantial reason” standard for gun owners was unconstitutional.

“We appreciate Governor Hogan stepping up and taking action to put Maryland into compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision,” he said.

Mark Pennak, president of the gun rights group Maryland Shall Carry, was exultant.

“For the first time in decades, ordinary, responsible, law-abiding citizens in Maryland will have their Second Amendment right for self-defense outside the home respected,” he said.

A Democratic candidate for governor, former Attorney General Doug Gansler, said Hogan should have proposed ways to comply with the Supreme Court edict while also adding protections for Marylanders.

“The number one job of government is to keep people safe, and Governor Hogan has failed at that job,” Gansler said. “Governor Hogan dropped this requirement without suggesting any alternative, lesser standard that would ensure we are keeping guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

At a news conference in Baltimore, another Democratic candidate, former U.S. Education Secretary John King, said Hogan, who is openly pondering a run for president in 2024, was motivated by political considerations.

“Unfortunately, Governor Hogan has focused on primary voters in Iowa rather than the needs of Marylanders,” he said.

The other Democratic candidates for governor chimed in with similar statements.

State Sen. Will Smith (D-Montgomery), chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which regularly deals with gun legislation and criminal justice bills, had a terse but subtle message that seemed directed at voters who don’t pay close attention to state politics and, perhaps, to Democrats who are fond of Hogan. He retweeted the governor’s message on the gun regulations with the comment, “Elections matter.”

Nene Narh-Mensah contributed to this report.

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