The Maryland Firearms Safety Act survived one challenge to its constitutionality back in the summer, and now the controversial law faces yet another hurdle next month. The act, which went into effect back in October, garnered national attention for being one of the strictest of its kind. Several types of handguns, assault rifles, and high capacity magazines received an all out ban, and increased security restrictions were placed on gun purchasers. Second Amendment lobbyist groups immediately admonished the gun law, and backed a lawsuit against its constitutionality in federal court. The plaintiffs argued that the Act infringed upon the rights guaranteed by the Second and Fourteenth Amendments, and was therefore unconstitutional. But a federal district court judge in Baltimore disagreed and ruled that the act, while restrictive, was crafted in a way as to not be overly burdensome. Soon after word came down from the district court the gun rights advocates filed an appeal in the Fourth Circuit Court in Richmond. Now after couple months of downtime it appears we are a little bit closer to learning the final fate of the gun law.
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Governor Elect Hogan is not scheduled to begin his term as Maryland's top politician for another 6 weeks, but he has already publicized a few of his plans for gun control and drug abuse. The infamous Maryland firearms safety act appears to be safe for the foreseeable future, as Hogan's camp is on record stating they would not take action to try to repeal the law. On the other hand, the act still faces scrutiny from the federal court system. The hardline gun law was upheld in the United States District Court in Baltimore over the summer, but is now before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. The federal appellate judges will examine whether the firearms safety act infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and will consider the briefs of twenty-one different states, including Florida and Michigan, who have filed briefs urging the court to overturn the law. The Governor Elect has not publicized a detailed opinion of the firearms safety act, and will likely wait until he has taken office to do so. But Hogan has been clear thus far that his office will not challenge the incoming attorney general or the predominantly democratic legislature to repeal the law.
The Maryland Firearms Safety Act went into effect almost one year ago, and at that time most of the news stories were centered on record sales at state gun shops, which resulted in many of the popular handgun models being sold out at local stores. There were also numerous articles about overwhelming demand for the state police to complete background checks. Those who purchased firearms prior to the October 1st, 2013 effective date were not required to submit their fingerprints, but due to the shear number of applications were still forced to wait months for law enforcement clearance. There were a few scattered articles about those in opposition to the strict law, such as the NRA and other Second Amendment lobbyist groups. Each of these groups expressed a strong desire to challenge the law, but at the time it just didn't seem as if they would have any success. Marylanders were acting as if the strict statewide gun regulations were there to stay, and last summer's rush to buy firearms proved that. And now we can officially say that the Firearms Safety Act is in fact here to stay, as a federal judge recently upheld it as constitutional in a 47-page opinion.
A few months back we posted an article about a Maryland gubernatorial candidate who came out in support of marijuana legalization. Heather Mizeur, who is currently serving as a delegate in the state legislature, made numerous headlines with her public stance on legalized pot. Now the democrat from Montgomery County is in the news again for powerful opinions on the criminal justice system. Mizeur recently released a detailed plan, which calls for modifications to sentencing guidelines and incarceration terms of adult and juvenile criminal defendants. The plan questions the effectiveness of Maryland's so called tough on crime policies that have resulted in thousands of prison sentences for non-violent offenders. Mizeur refers to her plan as taking a holistic and transformational approach to the criminal justice system. In other words, she believes that rehabilitation and crime prevention, and not punishment, should be the main function of the criminal justice system. This approach is commonplace in many liberal states across the country, but the current administration, including O'Malley and Brown, do not share the same sentiments on crime and punishment.
A completely objective means to measure one state's gun laws against another simply does not exist. There is no cut and dry way to compare laws that are worded differently, and more importantly enforced differently. But academic institutions and lobbyist groups nonetheless love to take the abstract and put it into a study or a survey that appears to show concrete conclusions. While it's not science, these studies do serve the purpose of generating conversation. Organizations perform the work, issue press releases, and then the news outlets report to the public. And sometimes, if the issue is relevant, a lowly legal blog will continue the discussion. The discussion to be had revolves around the Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence, and its ranking of state gun laws for 2013. The Brady Campaign is the self-proclaimed largest anti gun violence grassroots organization in the country. The organization has been around since the 1970's but took the Brady name in 2001 with the mission of reforming the gun industry through legislative influence. The 2013 rankings slot Maryland as having the fourth toughest gun laws, only behind California, Connecticut, and New Jersey. The study incorporates a points system based on numerous categories, and even gives out academic letter grades; Maryland merely received an A- and no state received an outright A.
Two months ago a Baltimore County jury found a city police officer guilty of reckless endangerment in a bizarre and tragic training accident. Yesterday that police officer was sentenced to 60 days in jail and 2 years of reporting probation by a circuit court judge. The incident occurred just under one year ago at an abandoned state mental health facility. Several city police officers and trainees traveled to the county in order to use the facility as a tactical operations training ground. The cops were told to use training guns loaded with paintballs rather than bullets. And according to the incident reports all were using these simulated ammunition or simunition type weapons. All but a 19-year veteran of the force who fired his loaded firearm into a gathering of trainees huddled by a window. The bullet struck a young trainee in the head, resulting in severe brain damage and the loss of sight in one eye. County police and the state's attorney conducted a thorough investigation of the incident and charged the officer with second-degree assault and reckless endangerment. The defendant and his attorney elected to go to jury trial, undoubtedly after attempts to have the case dropped prior to trial failed. At the close of the four day trial, the jury game back with a guilty verdict on the reckless endangerment charge. The defendant was found not guilty on the second-degree assault count, which actually carries a greater maximum sentence of 10 years in jail compared to the 5-year max for reckless endangerment. Both charges are misdemeanors in Maryland.
The city of Baltimore will not soon forget 2013. A year that started out on such a high note for the city with the Ravens winning the Super Bowl quickly went the opposite direction in months that followed. During the spring and summer Baltimore was in and out of national headlines due to a large-scale jailhouse corruption ring. And in the last few months the city has witnessed a major uptick in gang related violent crime and homicide. From the middle of October to the middle of November there were a staggering 29 murders. The city has responded by enacting a new 5-year anti crime policy that was made public by the police commissioner and the mayor one week before the Thanksgiving holiday. The plan, which is laid out in a 192-page report, will shift the majority of law enforcement focus to gangs, guns, and repeat violent offenders. Although specific tactics and techniques were not fully explained, officials expect that improvements in intelligence gathering and cooperation with other law enforcement agencies will make for more effective policing. Unfortunately though for the citizens of Baltimore press releases and hundred page reports will not suppress crime automatically. Only officers out on the streets can accomplish this goal, but a shortage of qualified officers may prove to be a challenging hurdle.
The Blog has posted multiple articles about our state's gun laws in the past few weeks as Maryland's controversial gun laws just cannot seem to stay out of the news. This week was no different, with another headline courtesy of the United States Supreme Court. The Court recently announced that it would not hear argument on the statewide firearm carry permit law, which was upheld by U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th District this past year. The challenge to the law began when a gun owner from Baltimore had his concealed carry application denied because he could not prove to the state that he had a "good and substantial reason" for the license. This was despite the fact that the man's house had been burglarized multiple times. The gun owner filed suit in federal district court, and was joined by The Second Amendment foundation, an organization that opposes firearm restrictions. The district court judge agreed that the law was too restrictive and vague, and found it unconstitutional. But the victory was short lived for plaintiffs after the Appellate court reversed and held that the law could stand. Both parties were confident that the Supreme Court would settle the issue for good (and in their respective favor), but it wasn't to be as the Court decided the 4th Circuit would have the final say.
In the past month the Blog has posted an article about crime in the NFL, and another article about stiffer gun laws in Maryland becoming effective. Coincidently, this past week a story broke that combines these two issues; the NFL has now adopted a stiffer gun policy. As of this past Sunday, off duty police officers are no longer allowed to carry their firearms into NFL stadiums on gameday. The policy had previously allowed off duty cops to carry their weapons into the stadiums provided they used a special entrance, and notify NFL security of their seat location. The league did not provide specific reasons for instituting this new policy midway through the season, and police unions and law enforcement officers around the country have expressed widespread frustration about the change. In some cases this new rule directly contradicts police department policy and even state law.
Starting in January of each year the Maryland Legislature meets for about three months to debate and vote on hundreds of proposed laws. News stories chronicling the progress of these bills come out of Annapolis daily during the three-month session. But it's not until October that the work of the legislature actually begins to affect the people. Now that October is upon us all the new laws that we forgot about over the summer are in the news again, as the first of the month marks their effective date. This year there are a host of new laws that are relevant to the Blog. We'll start off with one that may seem like a big deal, but those who have been reading each of our posts won't be fooled by the headlines. As of tomorrow Maryland is officially a medical marijuana state. But as we have discussed numerous times in the past the medical marijuana program will not be functional until about 2016. Even when the program is functional it will hardly be accessible by anyone with legitimate medical need for the drug. The program will only be administered by a few select research hospitals so don't expect to see medical marijuana dispensaries popping up at your local shopping center or strip mall. The legislature will likely revisit the marijuana issue in the 2014 session though, and pot may actually be decriminalized before the medical use program even treats its first patient.
Maryland is widely known as having some of the strictest gun laws in the entire country. Few states have provisions that even come close to the highly controversial law, which requires citizens to prove a good and substantial reason to possess a carry permit. Maryland also requires mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, regardless of whether the seller is a licensed dealer or a private party. There is also a mandatory seven-day waiting period in order to buy a gun. And now after the close of this years legislative session in Annapolis, the strict are bound get stricter after The General Assembly passed new firearms regulations. The bill, which has generated national attention, is awaiting Governor O'Malley's signature before it becomes law. All prior indications from the Governor's office have signaled that signing on the dotted line is a foregone conclusion. The new law will have a sweeping impact on all aspects of firearms regulation including purchasing, possessing, and selling.
A little over a year ago, Federal District Court Judge Benson Everett Legg ruled that the "good and substantial" provision of the Maryland concealed carry gun law was unconstitutional. This provision required citizens to prove to the state Handgun Permit Unit that they had a good and substantial reason before being granted a concealed carry permit. When a Baltimore County man was denied one such permit, he filed suit in federal court, and the Second Amendment Foundation, which advocates for the preservation of the right to carry, joined in the lawsuit. Despite the Attorney General's best efforts, Judge Legg concluded that the law was too broad to satisfy the state's compelling interest to protect its citizens and prevent crime. According to the Judge the good and substantial provision did not safeguard the public from every handgun related hazard, and therefore did not do enough to justify a significant limitation on the constitutional right to bear arms. But just last week, a three-judge panel sitting for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit unanimously disagreed with Judge Legg, and reversed his decision.
The Baltimore Police Department and the Mayor's office has released it annual crime report, and the statistics are mixed as to whether 2012 was another step in the right direction. The city's homicide rate rose for the first time in a few years, and this is a cause for concern from the police and the mayor's office. In 2011 the city reported 197 murders, which is still a relatively high number considering the overall population. But last year this number actually rose ten percent to 217 murders, thus assuring that Baltimore will still be talked about with the likes of Detroit, Oakland, and St. Louis as one of the most violent cities in America. Although homicides were up it still may not be fair to lump our city in with the usual suspects of violent places. In fact, 2012 crime statistics of other violent crimes and certain property crimes show just the opposite.
Police Chief Batts and Mayor Rawlings-Blake were quick to point out that in spite of the homicide spike, the total violent crime rate dropped five percent. Total violent crime includes homicide, as well as other criminal offenses such as robbery, aggravated assault, and rape. Overall there were 400 less of these incidents in 2012 as opposed to 2011. Burglary, arson, and theft numbers were also down by about five percent, and there were a total of 1,800 fewer type I crime victims this past year. Type I crime includes all of the above crimes. Gun crime also increased significantly according to the police statistics. 2012 marked the lowest number of non-fatal shootings in the city since statistics records of these incidents began in the year 2000. There was also a six percent decrease in the combined amount of shootings, carjackings, and armed robberies from 2011 to 2012. Gun arrests and gun seizures did not experience a significant change, as police arrested around 1,100 people for gun crimes and seized over 1,800 illegal firearms.
Maryland lawmakers are set to begin the 2013 legislative session next week in Annapolis, and gun control is one topic on the minds of many representatives. State legislatures from all over the country will undoubtedly take a deep look into their respective gun laws following the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy, and Maryland is no exception. At least one representative, a democrat from Baltimore County, has already publically proposed a bill that would require active duty police officers to be deployed full time in all state public schools. There are currently school resources officers in many middle and high schools and a few elementary schools, but deploying these officers in public schools is not mandatory. School resource officers are sworn policemen and women that have arrest powers, and carry standard issue police firearms. The bill was submitted as emergency legislation, which means that if it passes it could go into effect as soon as February. It is obviously too early to tell if the bill will receive any opposition, but it seems as if the financial burden on local police jurisdictions would be the only obstacle to the bill's passage.
If the bill is passed in the next few weeks, it could cost Maryland's city and county police departments between 50 and 70 million dollars per year. This money would likely come from gambling revenue that is already earmarked for the state's schools. It seems logical that this bill will pass easily and the required funds will be made available. Many had been questioning why this type of law was not implicated pre Newtown, and now after the latest school tragedy the legislature is unlikely to go through the next 3 months without putting a gun control law on the books. Requiring police in every public school is not the only bill that will be proposed in the upcoming session. Many representatives have also come out in support of a state ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. This bill may meet slightly more opposition than the school officer bill due to the constitutional issues that it may present. There may also be a bill introduced in Annapolis that attempts to keep all guns away from anyone with a dangerous mental illness, but this bill may have the same constitutional issues in addition to being difficult to implement.
A Maryland man was arrested for multiple drug charges after police used a search warrant to raid his Ann Arundel County home. Ann Arundel police executed the search warrant and discovered approximately 46 marijuana plants, which ranged from 5 to 6 feet tall. Police did not release the exact details of what led them to the 53 year old man's home, but police did say that residents of the neighborhood had voiced to concerns to cops about possible drug activity going on in the house. According to police, the Maryland man was arrested for 9 drug charges including manufacturing marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and possession of marijuana. Manufacturing marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute are both felonies, while possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor. Police did not indicate whether they had any concrete evidence that the Maryland homeowner was actually dealing drugs, or if the marijuana grow operation was simply for personal use. According to police, the marijuana would eventually have a street value of over 50 thousand dollars once the marijuana was harvested.
Police also found over 20 firearms inside the home upon execution of their search warrant. The firearms, which included handguns, shotguns, and rifles were being kept by Ann Arundel police as evidence, although there is no indication that the guns were illegally owned or possessed. Police did say that the ATF was going to be called in to further investigate the collection of firearms. At the time of this article, the man has not been charged with any firearm, gun, or weapons crimes, and it appears that further criminal charges for weapons possession is unlikely. The guns were legally located within the Maryland man's home, and did not appear to be stolen. Police commented that the number of guns in the home was alarming, although there is no evidence that the man ever brought the guns outside of his home, or used any of the firearms in connection with any sort of crime.