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Maryland General Assembly votes to abolish state's Handgun Permit Review Board

The General Assembly has voted to abolish the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board.

The House of Delegates voted 87-47 Thursday night on the legislation. Earlier, the Senate passed the legislation on a 30-16 vote.

The bill would dissolve the handgun board — which Democrats argued is too permissive in overturning and modifying Maryland State Police decisions on handgun permits. Handgun owners would instead appeal directly to a state administrative law judge.

The legislation now heads to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for his consideration; he has not taken a position on the bill.

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, a Howard County Democrat who sponsored the House version of the legislation, said she expects Hogan to veto the bill.

“We have enough votes to override the veto, but at this point, it will have to wait until we come back next session,” Atterbeary said. “This is really about process. It’s about who is better suited to hear these appeals: this board or actual judges.”

Sen. Pamela Beidle, an Anne Arundel Democrat, is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.

Handgun owners who want to carry their guns with them must prove to state police that they have a “good and substantial” reason to carry the guns, under state law.

In total, 22,177 Marylanders have handgun permits, according to state police. The state police received about 4,400 new applications and 5,400 renewal applications last year — and denied about 500 of those applications.

When state police deny a permit or place restrictions on one, the handgun owner currently can appeal to the board. The five-member board is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, although the Senate refused to confirm Gov. Larry Hogan’s three latest appointees.

For decades, the board operated with little scrutiny, handling a few dozen cases a year.

Since Hogan was elected and began appointing board members, the board has grown more permissive, routinely granting requests from gun owners to overturn permit denials or to remove restrictions, and its caseload has grown.

Of 269 cases the board reviewed from December 2017 through November 2018, the board reversed state police decisions 77 times and modified them 145 times. Combined, that’s a rate of overturning or modifying state police decisions 83 percent of the time.

Hundreds of gun owners now appeal their denials each year.

Supporters of the board say it’s a necessary check on the state police.

Board members told legislators during a hearing last month that they take their jobs seriously and that lawmakers didn’t talk with them or come to a meeting before seeking to eliminate the board.

The hearing briefly turned tense when a former board member, Shari Judah, was hauled out by a state trooper after she refused to conclude her testimony when her time was up.

The gun control group Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence had supported the bill, arguing that an administrative judge would offer an unbiased venue for permit appeals.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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