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Complaint filed over closed-door meeting of Maryland handgun board

A Delaware resident has filed a complaint alleging the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board improperly held a closed session last month. The board meets weekly at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore to hear appeals from handgun owners who are seeking "wear and carry" permits for their guns.
A Delaware resident has filed a complaint alleging the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board improperly held a closed session last month. The board meets weekly at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore to hear appeals from handgun owners who are seeking "wear and carry" permits for their guns. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

A Delaware man has filed a complaint that the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board improperly held part of a meeting behind closed doors last month.

The Baltimore Sun reported last week that the handgun board held closed hearings on two requests for concealed-carry permits on July 22, even though the board’s staff warned that doing so might violate the state’s Open Meetings Act.

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The board’s agenda that night did not include a warning that the board might meet in closed session, which is one of the requirements for holding a closed session.

Representatives from gun rights and gun control advocacy groups told The Baltimore Sun that they didn’t plan to file a complaint.

But after reading about the meeting in The Sun, Delaware resident Craig O’Donnell filed a complaint with the Open Meetings Compliance Board on Thursday.

O’Donnell is a journalist in Delaware, who previously worked in Maryland. He considers himself a “transparency advocate” and said he’s filed dozens of open meetings complaints.

“Discussing a permit in a closed session should never happen except for compelling reasons in rare cases,” O’Donnell wrote in his complaint. “As a member of the public, I cannot conjure up a situation where this should be necessary, and the HPRB has never offered the public sufficient explanation.”

O’Donnell’s complaint also alleges that the handgun board further violated the open meetings law by not clearly stating a reason for closing the meeting, not having a member present who had received required training in the open meetings law and not including enough information about the closed session in the meeting minutes.

The Open Meetings Compliance Board reviews complaints and issues opinions on whether government bodies have violated the law. It does not have any authority to impose sanctions, such as fines.

The Handgun Permit Review Board hears appeals of decisions by the Maryland State Police on permits for handgun owners to wear and carry their guns. Some cases are appeals of gun owners who were denied a permit, but most are for permit owners who want restrictions on their permit lifted.

The board came under scrutiny for granting applicants’ requests more than 80 percent of the time in 2018. State lawmakers passed a bill this year to abolish the board, instead sending appeals straight to administrative judges. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, vetoed the bill and appointed new members to the handgun board in June.

The handgun board is likely to remain in operation only until January, when the Democratic-led General Assembly is expected to override Hogan’s veto.

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