Montgomery Co.’s ‘ghost gun’ law challenged in court

Legislation in Montgomery County, Maryland, seeking to tighten rules on the sale or possession of so-called “ghost guns” is being challenged in court, but county lawmakers, including the architect of the bill, say the county will “vigorously defend” itself against the lawsuit.

The suit, filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court May 28, argues the county’s law, unanimously passed by the council in April, “unlawfully exceeded its powers and jurisdiction to criminally regulate the possession and transfer of lawfully owned firearms” in a way that is incompatible with the Maryland state constitution and other state law.

The county’s law, which doesn’t take effect until July 16, would bar anyone from transferring ownership of a ghost gun to a minor and bar the manufacture of a ghost gun in the presence of a minor. The bill would also prohibit the sale, transfer, manufacture or possession of ghost guns “within 100 yards of a place of public assembly,” such as a school, church or community center.

Speaking to reporters Monday during a weekly media briefing, Montgomery County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz, who sponsored the legislation, said he had been advised against responding to the specifics of the suit, citing the pending matter.

But he said ghost guns — which don’t have a serial numbers and can be made using a 3D printer or assembled at home from kits — are a serious problem, and county lawmakers carefully studied the issue before drafting the legislation.

“We felt on the merits that it was more than appropriate to take action,” Albornoz said. “And we certainly did our homework as we were preparing for this bill, and consulted with, as we always do, all the appropriate authorities, and so we will vigorously defend ourselves before the courts. And we’ll see what the courts decide, but I feel good about the intent of this bill.”

The suit was filed by a gun-rights advocacy group called Maryland Shall Issue, which has about 2,000 members in the state, according to the suit. Also listed as plaintiffs are two Montgomery County businesses — the Engage Armament Shop in Rockville and I.C.E. Firearms — and several individuals.

The lawsuit was first reported by Bethesda Beat. It argues the county’s bill burdens gun owners from possessing firearms in the county that are otherwise lawful in the state.

The group also takes issue with the county’s expansive definition of “place of public assembly,” which is defined in the bill as “a place where the public may assemble, whether the place is publicly or privately owned,” and which the group argues is too broad.

The county’s definition “encompasses every sidewalk, every restaurant, every coffee shop, and every private business in the entire County as all such locales may be places where the public ‘may’ assemble either in the present or in the future,” the lawsuit stated. “The term may even include private homes in so far as such homes ‘may’ be used by two or more of the public from time to time in the present or in the future to ‘assemble.'”

The lawsuit also claims the county overstepped its authority.

Mark Pennak, of Maryland Shall Issue, told WTOP that the bill was “a vast overreach,” saying that “those guns are not regulated by state law; they’re treated like any other guns by state law.”

Pennak added that the state has powers to restrict a county’s ability to regulate firearms. “Montgomery County is not a little sovereign unto itself,” Pennak said; “it has to obey state law.”

During the media briefing, Albornoz said the federal government and the state “are catching up to this particular technology, and so it’s more than appropriate for local jurisdictions to do what we can until … there’s a little bit more clarity and ensuring that we take necessary steps to be proactive and that’s what we’ve done here.”

Albornoz also noted that D.C. has also taken steps to restrict ghost guns and that President Joe Biden, in a recent address from the White House Rose Garden on combating gun violence, “specifically highlighted ghost guns, and how dangerous they are and how prevalent they have become.”

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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