Hogan and guns

The Senate needs to reject one of Gov. Hogan's nominees to the Handgun Permit Review Board. Here's why.

When he was running for governor, Larry Hogan talked about guns and gun control about as little as possible. When his opponents in the Republican primary espoused full-throated support for an absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment, he talked about the need to keep guns away from those with mental illness. When his Democratic opponent in the general election started running attack ads against him featuring images of assault rifles on a playground and in a shopping cart, Mr. Hogan reiterated a promise not to try to overturn the state's gun laws and then changed the subject back to taxes and the economy.

But for those who reject the gun lobby's rhetoric that a heavily armed society is a safe one, there was some cause for doubt. During the campaign, the Washington Post reported on gun activists' claims that Mr. Hogan had given them private assurances that he would loosen Maryland's standards for issuing concealed-carry permits, and Mr. Hogan refused repeated requests to release the questionnaire he filled out for the National Rifle Association, which endorsed him and gave him an A- rating.

In December, Mr. Hogan was asked by a caller during an appearance on WBAL-AM's C4 show whether he would loosen the restrictions on the issuance of concealed-carry permits for handguns. Maryland not only requires applicants to pass a background check but also that they demonstrate a "good and substantial" reason for carrying a weapon outside the home. Mr. Hogan said his goal was to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to possess handguns but easier for everyone else. He bragged that 95 percent of those who applied to the state police for concealed-carry permits were getting them (others questioned that statistic) but lamented that while his administration was "trying to do what we can to make improvements," he was constrained by the legislature. "The law is the law," he said.

But the law does allow substantial room for a governor to tip the scales in favor of putting more guns on the streets, and there is reason to worry that Mr. Hogan is exercising it. The Senate is due to vote tomorrow on Mr. Hogan's appointees to the Handgun Permit Review Board, which is the body that handles appeals of state police denials of concealed-carry permits, and the confirmation process has revealed a substantial shift in the body's thinking that threatens to upend generations of Maryland policy and open the floodgates for the widespread carrying of guns in public. We join with anti-gun violence activists who are urging the Senate to reject at least one of the nominees to help preserve the integrity of Maryland's law.

The nominees to the five-member panel have been serving while waiting for Senate confirmation, and we appreciate their efforts to modernize the board's practices and to ensure that applicants are given fair, open hearings. We also believe there is value in having members on the panel with a range of viewpoints on the role of guns in society. But collectively, this group appears likely to tip the scales too far.

In particular, Marylanders to Prevent Handgun Violence has focused on Richard Jurgena, a Montgomery County business owner who has made posts on social media indicating that he believes Maryland's concealed-carry restrictions are unconstitutional. In an interview, he said that he is bound by the state law and has rejected applicants who failed to provide a sufficiently "good and substantial reason" for having a concealed-carry permit. But he said that his reading of recent Supreme Court decisions leads him to believe that requirement is unconstitutional.

It's hard to understand how that could be. A U.S. District Court judge made such a ruling in 2012 based on the Supreme Court's landmark 2008 case, District of Columbia v. Heller. But the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, saying Maryland's requirements are "reasonably adapted" to the state's "significant interests in protecting public safety and preventing crime." The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving the law intact. The same justices who decided Heller had the chance to overturn Maryland's law, but they didn't.

Like his fellow board members, Mr. Jurgena appears to take his responsibilities seriously, and we believe he and Mr. Hogan's other appointees mean well. But it is asking a great deal to expect someone to fairly enforce a law he believes is invalid. The "good and substantial" clause has traditionally been understood to apply to those who have documented threats against them or who work in jobs that put them at risk — for example, those who transport large amounts of cash. But it leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and we fear that confirming a nominee who has repeatedly and publicly questioned its basis would encourage the rest of the board to stretch the law's limits. We urge the Senate to reject his nomination.

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