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Will Modifying Maryland Gun Laws Affect Violent Crime Levels?

1100296_target_with_bullet_holes.jpgRecently a controversial Maryland gun law was declared unconstitutional in federal court. The decision left gun supporters and opponents alike arguing over the possible impacts on violent crime such as robbery, burglary, and even murder. The law required all Maryland residents to prove a “good and substantial reason” to be able to legally carry a handgun outside of the home in order to be granted a gun permit. The lawsuit began when a Baltimore man sued the state of Maryland in federal civil court after his application to renew his handgun carry permit was denied. The Baltimore man was joined in the lawsuit as plaintiff by the Second Amendment Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the right to bear arms. The plaintiffs prevailed, and provided the case is not successfully appealed, the Maryland legislature must modify this gun law.

Federal district judge Benson E. Legg’s ruling will most likely be upheld, which will undoubtedly force Maryland to issue more handgun carry permits. The question up for debate is whether a change in Maryland gun law will actually effect the number of gun crimes and other violent crimes in the state. Both sides of this heated issued will be presented, but only time will tell if gun law modification will have any effect on crime and arrest levels in Maryland.

Gun advocates applauded the federal court ruling as a major victory not only for citizens of Maryland, but for citizens of all states. If upheld, the ruling sets a major precedent that states may not unduly burden a law abiding citizen’s right to bear arms outside of the home, unless the state can show a substantial interest in doing so. Supporters of the recent ruling argue that Maryland has far more restrictive gun laws than the majority of the states, and changing these laws would simply put Maryland in line with the rest of the country.

Before this law was struck down, Maryland was in fact one of only 10 states that reserved sole discretion on whether to grant a gun permit to a citizen. These states are known as the “may issue” states because their gun laws do not require issuance of permits to law abiding citizens. The other 40 states must issue handgun carry permits to citizens who pass simple gun safety courses and background checks for prior felonies. Citizens who have been convicted of a felony can lose their constitutional civil liberties such as the right to vote or bear arms. Some states such as Vermont, do not even require a permit to carry a handgun outside of the home.

Gun rights advocates also make the argument that putting more guns in the hands of law abiding citizens would serve as a deterrent and decrease the levels of violent crime. This argument is entirely logical (how many times as an armed police officer been a victim of a street mugging) but there is a lack of empirical data supporting this contention. Gun rights supporters also point out that states such as Florida that have recently eased restrictions on on obtaining gun permits have not seen a measurable rise in violent crimes such as robbery, armed burglary, and aggravated assault. The murder rate in Florida has also not been affected in any discernible degree by the more relaxed gun permit law currently in place.

Those who oppose the right to carry handguns outside the home may argue that innocuous arguments may not turn into to deadly street shootouts if thousands more citizens were carrying guns. There is certainly no empirical evidence to prove this theory, and logic would additionally not support this contention. Gun owners will still face the same harsh penalties for using or even brandishing a gun in a threatening manner. A valid permit does not provide any sort of legal defense for a crime such as aggravated assault. In addition, handgun permit holders will still be prohibited from carrying their weapons in certain areas such as schools and courthouses. The debate between the supporters and the opposition of gun rights will certainly continue, but until hard scientific data is produced supporting either side, the most reasonable position is that gun laws have little or no effect on violent crime levels.

The Herbst Firm is a Baltimore criminal law firm that specializes in gun and firearm crimes. If you or someone you know has been charged or is being investigated for a gun or firearm crime in Maryland contact Maryland Firearm Lawyer, Benjamin Herbst at 410-207-2598.

References

Changing Maryland’s gun laws may have little effect on crime, scholars say, baltimoresun.com, March 10, 2012.