The Maryland attorney general's office has filed a motion to delay an order from a federal judge finding that the state's handgun permitting process is unconstitutional, pending an appeal.

Calling the ruling an "unmapped" legal issue, attorneys for the state argue in a motion filed late Wednesday that clarification from the appellate courts "would be prudent in light of the potentially significant adverse consequences for public safety."

The attorneys wrote that granting a motion to stay the court order would also allow the Maryland General Assembly to consider whether to enact legislation that might address the court's concerns while upholding the intent of the state's restrictions.

Opponents of Maryland's strict gun laws have long complained that obtaining a permit to carry a handgun has been nearly impossible. Among the many rules, the state requires that applicants show a "good and substantial reason" to carry a handgun.

This week, ruling in a lawsuit brought by a Maryland man who had a permit but was denied a renewal, U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg called the "good and substantial reason" clause unconstitutionally broad, an arbitrary regulation designed to minimize the number of guns on the street, but one that doesn't necessarily keep everyone safe.

The ruling was hailed as a victory by gun enthusiasts, who saw it as a bolster to public safety. There are 12,000 active carry permits in the state, and advocates expect that number to increase exponentially — possibly more than tenfold. Experts also told The Baltimore Sun that the ruling is likely to withstand an appeal.

Critics say the state's laws are reasonable, and loosening the restrictions will lead to more violence in a state with already-high levels of gun crime.

Maryland State Police spokesman Gregory Shipley said the agency, which oversees the permit process, will not be making any permit decisions solely on the "good and substantial reason" requirement until "the court clarifies its position" based on the attorney general's request.

In their motion, assistant attorneys general Matthew J. Fader and Stephen M. Ruckman wrote that the state's ability to protect public safety is harmed by the ruling and that the inability to enforce crucial components of the handgun permit regulations will "expose citizens to an increased risk of handgun violence."

They quoted an opinion from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in a different case: "We do not wish to be even minutely responsible for some unspeakably tragic act of mayhem because in the peace of our judicial chambers we miscalculated as to Second Amendment rights."

Baltimore Sun reporter Tricia Bishop contributed to this article.