25 states urge Supreme Court to hear case challenging Maryland's strict firearm laws

Maryland "has essentially enumerated large specific lists of firearms that are not to be permitted as lawful to posses," said Kansas AG Derek Schmidt. "We don't think that approach is permissible under the Second Amendment."

Updated: January 30, 2022 - 10:54pm

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Twenty-five states, led by Arizona and West Virginia, are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Bianchi v. Frosh, which challenges Maryland's restrictive Firearms Safety Act of 2013.

They're asking the court to ultimately strike down the law, which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld last September, in a brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of the petitioners.

On Jan. 14, the Supreme Court ordered Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, to file a response to a petition filed by the plaintiffs last December. At issue is, "Whether the Constitution allows the government to prohibit law-abiding, responsible citizens from protecting themselves, their families, and their homes with a type of 'Arms' that are in common use for lawful purposes?"

Maryland's 2013 law, one of the strictest in the country, requires residents to undergo safety training and fingerprinting in order to get a license to legally purchase a pistol. It also attempts to define assault weapons, generally prohibits the sale, transfer or receipt of semi-automatic weapons, including the AR-15 and similar rifles, and restricts magazine capacity to 10 rounds of ammunition.

The law also bans firearms that have features like folding stocks and flash hiders, which the 25 states argue provide additional structural support for safer use.

The Center for American Progress says the law has made Maryland safer. Still, Maryland gun control advocates are pushing for even more gun restrictions to be passed.

The 2013 law "goes against Supreme Court precedent and steps on the Second Amendment," West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey argues. "Law-abiding gun owners routinely use these firearms for self-defense or sporting. Such an unconstitutional act cannot stand."

If the Fourth Circuit's decision isn't overruled by the Supreme Court, it would set case law governing any similar law passed in West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, the attorneys general argue.

The lower court "inappropriately limited the scope of the Second Amendment by taking an earlier Supreme Court ruling out of context," the AGs argue. They're referring to the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Americans who aren't in the military or in a militia have the right to possess firearms for lawful purposes. The AGs argue the ruling should be clarified to extend to sporting rifles, including AR-15s, in "common use."

"Americans bearing these firearms benefit public safety, counterbalance the threat of illegal gun violence, and help make our streets safer," Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said. "Arizona and forty-two other states allow the commonly-used firearms that Maryland has banned outright."

Joining Arizona and West Virginia are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming.

Kansas AG Derek Schmidt, a strong Second Amendment defender, said he was pleased that the high court recognized the Second Amendment was a fundamental right in Heller and extended that in McDonald v. Chicago (2010). But after these court cases, "the high court largely went silent on the Second Amendment," he said, "for the better part of a decade."

"We tried repeatedly to persuade them to hear other challenges," and the latest in that effort is requesting the court to hear the Maryland case, he said.

The state of Maryland "has essentially enumerated large specific lists of firearms that are not to be permitted as lawful to posses," Schmidt said. "We don't think that approach is permissible under the Second Amendment. We don't think that political actors, legislatures, get to pick and choose which weapons in common use are available to Americans, and we've asked the Supreme Court to take the case and give us greater definition. I'm hopeful that they will."

The Supreme Court's recent order indicates that at least one justice on the bench wants a response and "likely means that the court will hold this petition pending a decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen," argues Maryland Shall Issue, an all-volunteer, nonpartisan organization committed to defending the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court is currently considering the constitutionality of New York's "good cause" requirement for carry permits in a case it agreed to hear last year.

"Holding Bianchi would be consistent with the hold that the Court has apparently placed on the petition filed in the New Jersey 'large-capacity magazine' case, ANJRPC v. Bruck," the group adds. That case's petition has been pending in the Supreme Court since April 2021.

"All of this is good news," Maryland Shall Issue says. "A decision in Bruen this spring may mean that the court will thereafter vacate the lower court decisions in both Bianchi and ANJRPC and remand for further consideration in light of Bruen. At least, we hope that is the outcome."