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Maryland Senate committee advances bill to abolish handgun permit board that's been criticized as too permissive

The Maryland Senate is advancing a bill that would abolish the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board, which some critics say is too permissive in overturning denials of permits to carry handguns.

A key committee on Monday night approved the bill, the first step before the measure can become law.

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

When owners are denied a permit or issued a permit with restrictions, they can appeal to the handgun board. In recent years, the board has grown more permissive, routinely granting requests from gun owners to overturn permit denials or to remove the restrictions.

Under the bill approved by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, the handgun board would be disbanded and appeals would instead be heard by administrative judges.

Supporters of the handgun board say it’s a useful citizen oversight board that acts as a check on the state police.

From December 2017 through November 2018, the board overturned or modified state police decisions 83 percent of the time.

Sen. Pamela Beidle, an Anne Arundel Democrat who is the bill’s sponsor, said she’s concerned the state police are overruled by the handgun board so often.

“I really feel that our troopers are doing a great job,” Beidle said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said it gives him “comfort” to have administrative judges, who are trained in the handgun law, hearing appeals on gun permits, “rather than five lay people.”

Sen. Ron Young, a Frederick County Democrat, said the handgun board members could have different approaches to deciding permit appeals, based on the governor who appoints them.

“It’s not felt that this board is unbiased,” Young said. “It doesn’t matter who the governor is. Who is on the board may lean one way or the other.”

Senators who voted against the bill said it doesn’t address what they see as the key issues: the vague “good and substantial” standard in the state law and the onerous restrictions put on permits.

“I don’t see how this changes anything,” said Sen. Stephen Hershey, an Eastern Shore Republican.

The Executive Nominations Committee voted 10-5 to approve the bill. The Judicial Proceedings Committee also must approve the bill before it goes to the full Senate for consideration. Three members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee who also are members of the Executive Nominations Committee abstained from the vote, so that they don’t vote on the bill twice. Miller also abstained.

The House of Delegates has not yet acted on its version of the bill, but the House voted last year to approve a bill to abolish the handgun board, making it likely to pass again this year.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

This article has been updated to correct the status of a House of Delegates version of a bill to abolish the Handgun Permit Review Board.
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