The Maryland State Police issued a directive to all employees to keep enforcing the Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL) law even though a panel of three judges from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law to be unconstitutional.
“On November 21, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rendered a decision in a case questioning the constitutionality of the Handgun Qualification License (HQL) codified in Md. Public Safety Article, 5-117.1,” the memo reads. “The Fourth Circuit Court’s opinion is that the HQL law is unconstitutional.”
The Maryland HQL law requires anyone who wants to purchase a handgun to attend a training class taught by a Maryland State Police certified instructor, fill out an application, get a background check, and pay a fee to the state.
Maryland Shall Issue (MSI) sued the state over the requirements in Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. v. Wes Moore, believing it violated the United States Constitution.
The United States Supreme Court’s decision in NYPRA v. Bruen strengthened MSI’s legal claim that the law was unconstitutional. In the SCOTUS opinion, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that a firearm law must be consistent with the plain text, tradition, and history of the Second Amendment.
The government could not provide any historical analogues from the founding era that show a law similar to the current Maryland HQL requirements.
“In Maryland, if you are a law-abiding person who wants a handgun, you must wait up to thirty days for the state to give you its blessing. Until then, there is nothing you can do; the issue is out of your control. Maryland has not shown that this regime is consistent with our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. There might well be a tradition of prohibiting dangerous people from owning firearms. But, under the Second Amendment, mechanism matters. And Maryland has not pointed to any historical laws that operated by preemptively depriving all citizens of firearms to keep them out of dangerous hands. Plaintiffs’ challenge thus must succeed, and the district court’s contrary decision must be REVERSED,” the decision reads.
The memo went out on November 21, 2023, the same day the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in MSI v. Moore, stating that the State Police will continue to enforce the law until the courts give an official mandate. The court issued the ruling but has yet to release the mandate. The mandate is expected, but until it is published, the State Police are free to enforce the law as they see fit.
“At this time, the HQL, law remains in effect and there are no immediate changes in the process to purchase a firearm in Maryland,” the letter reads. “The opinion of the Fourth Circuit Court does not become effective until the court issues a mandate.”
Maryland is expected to ask the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for an en banc hearing, meaning the entire bench will hear the case. If an en banc hearing is granted, the Circuit Court could vacate the decision until the case is heard.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.