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Maryland State Police Sgt. Brian Bonnell, standing from left, Sr. Trooper Brett Laziuck and two gun owners are sworn in before their testify to the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board during a meeting this summer. The state's Open Meetings Compliance Board found the handgun board violated open meetings law during a meeting on July 22.
Maryland State Police Sgt. Brian Bonnell, standing from left, Sr. Trooper Brett Laziuck and two gun owners are sworn in before their testify to the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board during a meeting this summer. The state's Open Meetings Compliance Board found the handgun board violated open meetings law during a meeting on July 22. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Maryland’s Handgun Permit Review Board violated the state’s open meetings law by going into a closed session this summer, the state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board found.

Delaware resident Craig O’Donnell challenged the handgun board’s closed meeting on July 22, alleging that multiple parts of the state law were not followed.

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The handgun board, which hears appeals of decisions on whether handgun owners can receive “wear and carry” permits, decided to review two cases behind closed doors. That practice was common previously, but largely stopped when a new set of board members took office in May.

O’Donnell filed a complaint with the state’s open meetings board in August. That board reviews complaints and issues opinion, but it has no authority to punish government bodies or officials who violate the law.

The open meetings board issued an opinion this month, finding that the handgun board committed multiple violations of state law during the July 22 meeting, including:

  • Not stating the reason for closing the meeting to the public;
  • Not recording who was present and what was discussed during the closed session;
  • Not posting a checklist required to close a meeting.

The open meetings board did not agree with one of O’Donnell’s allegations, which was that the public was not given advance notice that the handgun board may go into closed session.

The open meetings board agreed that the notice wasn’t included on the handgun board’s agenda. But that did not constitute a violation of the law, because the handgun board’s chairman had stated publicly he intended to not have closed meetings, the open meetings board noted.

“At any rate,” the open meetings board opinion states, “the Review Board informs us that it has taken remedial measures since July 22, including the reinstatement of language on its meeting agendas indicating that the Review Board may convene a closed session.”

The Handgun Permit Review Board is likely to exist for only a few more months. State lawmakers who were concerned about the board’s high rate of granting permits passed a bill earlier this year eliminating the board and sending permit appeals instead to state administrative law judges.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, vetoed the bill, which allows the handgun board to remain in operation until Democratic lawmakers likely override the veto when they are back in session in January.

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