Gun rights advocates filed a second lawsuit against Maryland's new gun law Friday, calling a requirement that buyers of handguns obtain a license an "unconstitutional de facto ban" on sales.
The new suit escalates an assault on the law, which is scheduled to go into effect Tuesday. The challenge was filed just hours after a federal judge set an emergency hearing for early next week in a related case against the new law's ban on the sale of assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines.
The new suit challenges the implementation of requirements that handgun purchasers submit their fingerprints and be licensed by the state. That part of the law has been a priority of advocates for greater controls on firearm ownership.
The plaintiffs — a collection of gun stores, gun associations and gun buyers with pending applications — argue that Maryland State Police are not ready to process the license applications quickly. That would subject citizens to an outright, indefinite ban on handgun purchases, they contend — a violation of their Second Amendment rights.
The suit on handguns does not directly challenge the constitutionality of the licenses themselves, but argues that the logistics of issuing them will infringe on the rights of gun buyers.
"Maryland State Police has failed to complete its statutory duty to disapprove applications for regulated firearms within seven days," as the current law requires, wrote the plaintiffs' lawyers, John P. Sweeney and T. Sky Woodward. They could not be reached for comment.
An unprecedented surge in gun purchase applications this year has overwhelmed the state police's ability to process background checks, leading to more than a three-month delay in processing them.
And the lawyers added that the backlog — which stands at about 50,000 applications — suggests the new law will amount to an "unconstitutional de facto ban."
They asked a judge to bar state officials from implementing the law until the old applications are cleared and the process for obtaining a license is up and running.
But Vincent DeMarco, the president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, said that similar laws elsewhere have been in place for decades and that the gun owners have "no leg to stand on."
"It's the most important part of the law," he added. "It's the part of the law that according to the evidence that the state can best use to prevent gun violence."
A spokesman for Maryland State Police declined to comment on the pending suit, but state officials have said they are devoting employees to clearing the backlog. State police said this week they will not require people who applied for a background check before Oct. 1 to get a license under the new scheme.
The agency's intention not to enforce that part of the law offers little comfort to some gun buyers, according to the suit, because buying a gun without a license will still be illegal and buyers could be arrested by other police departments not bound by the state police assurances.
The suit was filed by the same law firm and shares some plaintiffs with the case, filed Thursday,challenging the assault rifles and magazines sale bans.
In that case, a judge set a hearing for Tuesday morning, setting up a last-minute showdown between gun rights advocates and the state over whether the law should go into effect or be put on hold.
The plaintiffs in the handgun case are also asking for a temporary restraining order, but no hearing was scheduled as of Friday night.
If the assault rifles part of the law goes into effect, the plaintiffs will be barred "from exercising their fundamental constitutional rights, threatening to undermine Plaintiffs' ability to protect themselves, their families, and their homes from criminals and others who might seek to cause them harm," Sweeney and Woodward wrote.
The state did not respond to either restraining order request Friday, but Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler wrote in April that he was confident all the elements of the law pass muster.
In order to get a restraining order in the assault rifles case, the plaintiffs will have to show that they will be irreparably harmed if the law is allowed to go into force, according to Stephen B. Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Meanwhile, the state can argue that it will be harmed if the law is held up.
"I would say it's a high bar [for the plaintiffs], particularly when you're talking about a federal judge enjoining a state statute," Burbank added. "It's a fairly grave thing to do."
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