Woollard v. Sheridan, United States District Court for the State of Maryland
Honorable Benson Everett Legg, Judge
The state of Maryland prohibits the carrying of a handgun outside the home, openly or concealed, without a permit. The Secretary of the State Police is required to issue permits, but only to individuals who meet certain enumerated conditions. An applicant must establish that he has not been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor for which a term of imprisonment greater than one year was imposed, has not been convicted of a drug crime, is not an alcoholic or drug addict, and has not exhibited a propensity for violence or instability. The Secretary must also make a determination that the applicant “has good and substantial reason to wear, carry, or transport a handgun, such as a finding that the permit is necessary as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger.”
Good luck trying to meet the “good and substantial reason” requirement. Those are words that make everything discretionary with the permit issuer. A wise Federal Court judge has just ruled that those words render the state statute unconstitutional under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In this case plaintiff Raymond Woollard lives on a farm in a remote part of Baltimore County, Maryland. On Christmas Eve, 2002, Woollard was at home with his wife, children, and grandchildren when an intruder shattered a window and broke into the house. The intruder was Kris Lee Abbott, Woollard’s son-in-law. Abbott, who was high on drugs and intent on driving into Baltimore city to buy more, was looking for his wife’s car keys. Woollard grabbed a shotgun and trained it on Abbott, but Abbott wrested the shotgun away. Woollard’s son restored order by pointing a second gun at Abbott. Woollard’s wife called the police, who took two-and- a-half hours to arrive.
Abbott was convicted of first degree burglary and sentenced to three years’ probation. He was later incarcerated after he violated his probation by assaulting a police officer and by committing another burglary.
In 2003, Woollard applied for, and was granted, a handgun carry permit. He was allowed to renew the permit in 2006, shortly after Abbott was released from prison.4 In 2009, however, when Woollard again sought to renew his permit, he was informed that his request was incomplete. He was directed to submit evidence “to support apprehended fear (i.e. –copies of police reports for assaults, threats, harassments, stalking).”
Because Woollard was unable to produce evidence of a current threat, his application was denied.
Woollard appealed this decision through all administrative process available. All administrative appeals were denied on the basis that Woollard “had not submitted any documentation to verify threats occurring beyond his residence, where he can already legally carry a handgun.” It was concluded that Woollard “had not demonstrated a good and substantial reason to wear, carry or transport a handgun as a reasonable precaution against apprehended danger in the State of Maryland.”
Woolard then filed suit against the permit issuing authorities in Federal Court alleging that the Maryland statutory requirements for a handgun permit are unconstitutional under the Second Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. His argument is that, separate and apart from any concern he may have regarding Abbott, he wishes to wear and carry a handgun for general self-defense.
Using intermediate scrutiny the court held that Maryland‘s requirement of “a good and substantial reason” for issuance of a handgun permit to carry concealed or openly is insufficiently tailored to the State‘s interest in public safety and crime prevention. The law impermissibly infringes the right to keep and bear arms, guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
The court was influenced in its decision by the “unbridled discretion” given to the administrative agency in deciding whether to issue permits, and that this rendered the manner in which permits are given little more than a rationing scheme.
A wise judge, that one.
I would have applied a strict scrutiny test requiring the state to show a compelling interest, but I don’t think a discretionary issue statute survives even a rational basis test, if applied rationally. If a case such as this reaches the Supreme Court it could be the basis for throwing out the whole idea of levels of scrutiny in deciding when someone’s Constitutional rights may be infringed. Chief Justice Roberts has hinted that he might be in favor of getting rid of levels of scrutiny.
The case will no doubt be appealed by the State of Maryland to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.