U.S. District Judge Benson Everett Legg's groundbreaking March 5 ruling that Maryland cannot refuse to issue a handgun permit to an otherwise qualified individual unless that person has an acceptable reason for wanting one is a jurisprudential gem that correctly shifts the burden of proof from the citizen to the government. His elegant reiteration of basic Second Amendment rights in Woollard v. Sheridan will be quoted for generations: "A citizen may not be required to offer a 'good and substantial reason' why he should be permitted to exercise his rights. The right's existence is all the reason he needs."
Maryland law prohibits the carrying of a handgun outside the home without a permit, and that has not changed. What has changed is the criteria the state can use to deny a permit. The case was filed by the Second Amendment Foundation on behalf of Baltimore County resident Raymond Woollard, whose son-in-law, Kris Lee Abbott, broke into his farmhouse on Christmas Eve in 2002. After terrorizing family members, he was subdued by Woollard's armed son. Shortly after Abbott was released from prison in 2009, Woollard tried to renew his permit, but Maryland's Handgun Permit Review Board denied his request on the grounds that he did not provide evidence of a current threat.
Woollard's lawyers argued that requiring such evidence was unconstitutional. Judge Legg agreed, noting that the "core right" identified in District of Columbia v. Heller is "the right of a law-abiding, responsible citizen to possess and carry a weapon for self defense" -- wherever that person happens to be. Legg, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush, also pointed out that Maryland's permitting scheme was nothing but a "rationing system" that did not even advance the state's legitimate interests in protecting the community from gun violence, but ironically "puts firearms in the hands of those most likely to use them in a violent situation." However, even if such rationing worked, "states may not seek to reduce the danger by means of widespread curtailment of the right itself."
One of the big surprises is that the strongest Second Amendment rulings have been coming out of places with the most repressive gun control laws, such as D.C., Chicago and now Maryland. Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler says the state will appeal, but he has an uphill battle trying to convince the federal appellate court that Maryland residents need the state's permission to defend themselves.