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Gun laws challenged in Md.’s highest court

Discussion in 'Guns & Hunting' started by Packman73, Oct 8, 2010.

  1. Oct 8, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    Packman73 [OP] ^^^^ 3%er ^^^^

    Aug 24, 2008
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    Posted: 1:41 pm Thu, October 7, 2010
    By Steve Lash
    Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

    ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s top court on Thursday grappled with whether the state’s laws restricting gun possession outside the home remain valid in light of a June Supreme Court ruling that the constitutional right “to keep and bear arms” extends to individuals.
    During arguments on the issue, Court of Appeals Judge Sally D. Adkins indicated that Maryland’s restrictions survive because the Supreme Court held in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the right applies only to gun possession inside one’s home.
    But Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. voiced doubt, saying the Supreme Court’s “obtuse” language in the 5-4 decision could indicate that the Second Amendment right extends beyond the home.
    The judges’ comments came as Maryland’s seven-member high court heard the appeal of Charles F. Williams Jr., who was convicted of gun possession outside his home.
    His attorney, James B. Hopewell, urged the Court of Appeals to strike down the gun possession statute as unconstitutional in light of the McDonald decision.
    The Supreme Court ruling gives people a “fundamental right” to gun ownership that the state can limit only in compelling instances, such as to keep a weapon from the mentally ill or away from schools, said Hopewell, a Riverdale solo practitioner.
    But Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler defended the state’s laws, saying the Supreme Court ruled that people have a Second Amendment right to gun possession solely in their homes and only for self-defense.
    States may impose “reasonable regulations” to prevent gun violence, Gansler said. Maryland has “a compelling governmental interest to not have people shot in the streets,” he added.
    In McDonald, the Supreme Court extended to states its 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms applies to federal laws and Washington, D.C., a federal enclave.
    In both rulings, the high court indicated that the right applies only to the possession of guns in one’s home for personal protection, Gansler argued and Adkins appeared to accept.
    “They only addressed in your home,” Adkins said of the Supreme Court rulings. “It doesn’t appear that that court” went beyond the home, she added.
    But Hopewell disagreed, citing two words in the McDonald decision as support for his position that the right is not so limited.
    Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority in McDonald, stated that “the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self defense within the home.”
    Alito’s use of the phrase “most notably” indicates that the right extends, albeit less notably, beyond self defense within the home, Hopewell said.
    Had the justices wanted to limit the right to the home they would have stated so more explicitly, he argued.
    “They left it open,” Hopewell added.
    That argument appeared to draw Harrell’s support.
    “They’re words that sound like the door is ajar to exceptions outside the home,” Harrell said of “most notably.”
    But Gansler responded that the court’s decisions in Heller and McDonald focused on what he called the “castle doctrine,” the fundamental right of people to protect themselves in their own home, or castle.
    “This [Williams] case is not about that,” Gansler said, noting the defendant possessed the gun outside his home. “We are not talking about fundamental rights.”
    Gansler, however, conceded under questioning from the bench that the Supreme Court had not specifically addressed the issue of gun possession outside the home.
    That issue “will come before the Supreme Court,” Gansler said. “[But] hopefully not this particular case.”
    Harrell, too, predicted that a line of cases involving gun possession outside the home will be appealed to the Supreme Court following the McDonald decision. He then had another thought.
    “If we rule in favor of Mr. Hopewell’s client, wouldn’t this case go to the head of the line?”
    The Court of Appeals did not indicate when it will render a decision in the case, Charles F. Williams Jr. v. State, No. 16, Sept. Term, 2010.
    Williams bought his handgun legally from a licensed dealer in August 2007.
    On Oct. 1, 2007, a Prince George’s County police officer saw Williams near woods and asked what he had hidden in the bushes.
    Williams responded, “My gun.”
    The officer arrested Williams for unlawful gun possession, specifically for violating a provision on carriage and transport. He was convicted and sentenced on Oct. 6, 2008, to three years in prison with all but one year suspended.
    His sentence has been put on hold pending the outcome of his appeals, Hopewell said.
    The Court of Special Appeals upheld the conviction last October, setting the stage for the constitutional challenge in Maryland’s high court.
    Williams, who attended the Court of Appeals argument, offered no prediction on how the judges will rule.
    “I hope that it’s a positive result,” he said.
    In a similar but unrelated case, Raymond Woollard of Baltimore County is challenging Maryland’s gun permit law as a violation of his Second Amendment rights.
    Woollard, an honorably discharged Navy veteran, was rejected for a permit to carry a gun outside his home. The state Handgun Permit Review Board, in rejecting his application, said he had not shown that he faced “threats occurring beyond his residence,” Woollard states in his complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
    Woollard is being assisted in the pending case by the Second Amendment Foundation Inc., a Bellevue, Wash.-based group that supports gun rights.
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