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Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board has become an easy mark for gun owners looking for an unrestricted conceal carry permit.
Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board has become an easy mark for gun owners looking for an unrestricted conceal carry permit. (Jed Kirschbaum / The Baltimore Sun)

Our view: It’s time to disband a state handgun board that has made reversing Maryland State Police and unwisely handing out (or reducing restrictions on) concealed carry permits its primary goal

Baltimore Sen. Bill Ferguson and his fellow members of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee are holding up Gov. Larry Hogan’s latest three nominees for the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board, but the real problem isn’t in that Senate panel. It’s in the review board — with or without the new members. Since Governor Hogan took office, the board has increasingly provided a loophole to allow Maryland handgun owners an opportunity to obtain a concealed carry permit after they are turned down by the Maryland State Police.

Some reversals would be reasonable. What government agency interprets the law perfectly every time? But what’s become increasingly apparent is that the handgun board under the control of Hogan appointees is not merely content to correct MSP mistakes, it’s looking to water down Maryland’s hard-won and court-tested restrictions on handgun permits. In the 12 months from mid-December of 2017 to mid-November of last year, the board modified or overturned MSP handgun permit decisions 222 times, sustaining the police agency’s decision just 37 times, according to the board’s most recent accounting. Those are not the actions of a “review” board, that’s the pattern of a “reversal” board.

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It’s one thing to seek to relax Maryland’s handgun permit restrictions through legislation. We think that putting more handguns on the streets would be a mistake, but such an above-board effort is how a democracy works. It’s quite another to use a civilian board with little experience in crime fighting or the statute in question to secretly undermine the law. (And many of their hearings are closed to the public, so “secretly” appears to be how this board rolls.)

That rate of reversal is not only ludicrous, but the high appeals rate (the board used to hear only a handful of cases a year) is ridiculous, too. Clearly, word has gotten out to the gun rights community that pretty much anything goes with the handgun board. Get denied or even restricted by state police? Don’t worry. Just appeal it (and ask for a closed hearing). The board will take the broadest interpretation possible of the “good and substantial reason” standard of state law. Those who have monitored cases on behalf of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence say the only people who lose are those who don’t show up for their hearings or are simply prohibited from owning a firearm by law, perhaps because they are a convicted felon.

Shame on Governor Hogan for nominating people who have so little respect for law enforcement and the standards MSP has developed over the years, but the bigger shame is on the legislature for allowing this to continue. Last year, lawmakers offered a bill that would have eliminated the review board and handed handgun permit appeals decisions to the state’s administrative law judges who are far more qualified to interpret the law and provide more consistency from one gubernatorial administration to the next. The measure was diluted after it ran into resistance in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to require the handgun board to do a better job of reporting its decisions. That’s been a help but hardly corrective.

What’s needed right now is a revival of last year’s stalled solution. Surely, with the board’s 2018 results in hand, senators can’t deny the reality of what’s happening. Senator Ferguson would be wise to keep a hold on all three of the board’s nominees (they are currently serving as recess appointments) until that measure is resurrected and approved by the full legislature. Mere compilations of statistics simply aren’t going to change the minds of ideologue nominees this committed to the proliferation of firearms. The notion that the more people carrying guns the safer will be the streets of Baltimore (and across Maryland) simply isn’t backed up by the facts. Studies show right-to-carry states are higher crime states. We can’t let Maryland move in that direction, whether it’s through legislation in Annapolis or by way of the back door operated by the handgun board.

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