Access widens to Maryland gun-carry permits

In two weeks, the Maryland State Police must stop denying gun carry permits to applicants who don't present a "good and substantial reason" for wearing a firearm, according to a federal court ruling handed down late Monday.

The ruling loosens restrictions governing gun possession on the state's streets and is expected to significantly widen the pool of people carrying firearms.

U.S. District Court Judge Benson E. Legg struck down the "good and substantial" requirement as unconstitutional in a March ruling, but temporarily delayed implementation of his decision to consider whether it should be stayed for a longer period pending an appeal by the state's attorney general's office.

But in an eight-page memorandum signed Monday, Legg determined that there was no basis for a stay and issued an order dissolving the temporary delay effective 14 days later.

A spokesman for the Maryland attorney general's office declined to comment on the ruling Tuesday afternoon, and an attorney for the plaintiff in the case, Raymond Woollard, could not immediately be reached.

Woollard, who lives in Baltimore County, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court after he was denied a renewal for his gun-carry permit. Woollard received his first permit in 2003, after his son-in-law broke into his home one Christmas Eve and terrorized the family, according to court records. It was renewed in 2006, but denied three years later, because Woollard couldn't show a continuing threat.

Woollard's lawsuit claimed the rejection was unconstitutional, and Legg ruled in his favor, finding found that Maryland's "good and substantial reason" requirement had no purpose other than to limit the number of guns on the street and that it "impermissibly infringes the right to keep and bear arms" as guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

"A citizen may not be required to offer a 'good and substantial reason' why he should be permitted to exercise his rights," Legg wrote. "The right's existence is all the reason he needs."

Before the ruling, Maryland was among a handful of states that follow a "may issue" policy for gun-carry permits, leaving the distribution of such licenses up to the discretion of local authorities after basic criteria are met.

In addition to proving that they weren't dangerous felons or addicts, Maryland applicants were required to show that they had a "good and substantial reason" for carrying a gun, and it was up to the superintendent of Maryland's state police to determine if an applicant's rationale passed muster.

Last year, the state police received 5,216 applications for carry permits, and denied about 5 percent of them, most -- 179 out of 251 -- because officials rejected the "good and substantial" reasoning, according to a spokesman.

The federal decision struck down that requirement and effectively shifted Maryland to a "shall issue" policy, like a majority of states, which automatically issue gun-carry permits once basic safety conditions are met.