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U.S. Supreme Court declines to take up gun cases, including Maryland appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to take up a slate of challenges to federal and state gun control laws, including a Maryland case.

Gun rights advocates had hoped the court would expand the constitutional right to “keep and bear arms” beyond the home.

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Instead, the justices left in place restrictions on the right to carry weapons in public in Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey. They also declined to review Massachusetts’ ban on some semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity ammunition magazines, a California handgun control law and a half-century-old federal law banning interstate handgun sales.

At issue in Maryland is the state’s law requiring residents who want to carry a handgun outside of their home to have a “good and substantial” reason to do so. The law makes those seeking permits demonstrate that they have legitimate safety concerns, often associated with people who work with or transport cash or other valuables.

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Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh cheered the decision.

“It’s a victory for public safety in Maryland,” Frosh said Tuesday. “The issue has been litigated repeatedly, and the Fourth Circuit has repeatedly upheld Maryland’s rule. It’s a common sense rule.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, wrote a dissent in the court’s denial of a New Jersey resident’s appeal seeking the right to carry a gun in public for self-defense. Rather than take on the constitutional issue, Thomas wrote, “the Court simply looks the other way.”

Maryland’s case was brought by the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association, and had been rejected by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The high court had indicated some interest in the case, asking the state to respond to the appeal after it opted to waive its right.

The association acknowledged in its appeal brief that Maryland’s “good and substantial reason” test had been upheld, in the 2013 decision of Woollard v. Gallagher. But they argued that that decision is “deeply flawed, and it should be overturned at the first opportunity by a court competent to do so.”

“Woollard does not meaningfully acknowledge the extensive textual and historical evidence demonstrating that the right to carry firearms for self-protection outside the home is at the very core of the Second Amendment,” they argued.

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office argued that Maryland’s application of the “good and substantial reason” requirement had been well-established.

“Moreover, publicly available social science statistics continue to support Maryland’s predictive judgment that enforcing the ‘good and substantial reason’ requirement furthers the State’s compelling interest in protecting its citizenry and promoting public safety,” the state argued.

The plaintiff on the gun association’s challenge was Brian Malpasso, described in the lawsuit as “an ordinary, law-abiding citizen of Maryland who wishes to carry a handgun outside his home for the purpose of self-defense" but was denied a permit in 2018 because it was determined he did not have a “good and substantial reason.”

The suit said that he “passed all required background checks, completed all required firearm training courses, and met every other qualification imposed by Maryland on the eligibility for a permit to carry handguns in public — except that like the vast majority of ordinary, law-abiding Maryland residents, he cannot document a specific clear and present threat to his safety."

Frosh said that those who can demonstrate a need for a handgun for their safety, and others who seek one for business-related purposes, can get one.

“On the other hand, I think it’s a real threat to public safety, and so does General Assembly and state police, to have everybody in the state walking around with guns,” Frosh said Tuesday. “It’s unlikely to lead to greater peace and its very likely to lead to more violence.”

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An attorney for the Maryland State Rifle and Pistol Association did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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