Thursday, March 14, 2013

Handguns, self-defense, and Maryland's interpretation of the Second Amendment

            In 2008, Judge Antonin Scalia, speaking for a fractured Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, galvanized the right to bear handguns (for “traditional lawful purposes”) among the class of civil liberties protected by the Constitution.  Yay!  The decision also recognized that the “inherent right of self-defense” is central to the Second Amendment.  Yay!

            You want to defend yourself, too.  And your desire to defend yourself does not decrease when you leave your home (in fact, depending on the neighborhoods through which you must travel, that desire may increase).  So keep a handgun in the glove compartment of your car, under the driver’s seat, or tucked in your waistband, right?  After all, the Constitution protects the “inherent right of self defense” and the right to bear handguns for that purpose, right?

            You’ll have to join the legions of Constitutional scholars currently serving time if you think so.

            Maryland, like many States of the Union, view the carrying of weapons in public with high dudgeon.  If you “wear, carry, or transport” a handgun on your person or in your vehicle, you are subject to a minimum penalty of 30 days in jail (if you have previously been convicted of weapons crimes, the minimum penalty increases to two years).  Md. Criminal Law Code Ann. §4-203.  There are exceptions for police and military folks—but if you’re reading this—you’re likely neither of those.

            If you’re going to carry a handgun outside your home, you must get a permit.  Md. Public Safety Code Ann. §5-303.  In March, 2012, a federal court judge found that Maryland’s law requiring applicants to show a “good and substantial reason” as a prerequisite to obtaining a permit violated the Second Amendment.  That decision was appealed to the Fourth Circuit, and arguments were heard in October 2012, but the requirement remains in place, pending the decision of the appellate court.

            Do yourself a favor.  Before you celebrate your civil liberties by toting a handgun outside your home, get yourself a permit.