By Jennifer Gable, Capital News Service
The Maryland Senate passed the controversial Gun Safety Act of 2023, which limits the circumstances where someone can carry a weapon even with a concealed carry permit, on Monday evening following a spirited debate.
Initially sponsored by Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery, and then-Sen. Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, now Secretary of State, the bill, SB 1, would tighten state gun laws in an effort to combat gun violence and in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that rendered some Maryland gun laws unconstitutional. Following friendly amendments on the Senate floor, the bill now has 24 sponsors.
If enacted, the bill would make the licensing process for wear and carry permits more strict, prohibit an individual from knowingly wearing, carrying or transporting a firearm on private property without consent, and prohibit guns “under certain circumstances” and in “certain locations,” including courthouses, hospitals, schools and areas where alcohol is served.
Waldstreicher said this bill was drafted in direct response to the Supreme Court’s decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen, the case in June that decided that law abiding citizens do not need a “good and substantial” reason to be permitted to carry a concealed firearm and that any “proper cause to carry” requirement, used in several states, including Maryland, was unconstitutional according to the 14th Amendment.
SB 1 was initially written to prohibit individuals, including those with a wear and carry permit, from bringing a firearm within 100 feet of certain public places, including restaurants, stadiums, hotels or retailers, according to the original bill.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, sponsors and other senators revised the bill over concerns it would not survive constitutional scrutiny.
“The bill was drafted too broadly and may have faced constitutional challenge,” Waldstreicher told Capital News Service. “Working with advocates, such as the organization Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, and Everytown for Gun Safety, we substantially altered the bill to specifically list which sensitive places where guns would no longer be allowed.”
The 100-foot requirement was removed, and specific places where guns are prohibited, such as preschools, hospitals and courthouses, were added, he said.
The bill does have some exceptions, including for on- and off-duty law enforcement, private business security, restaurant and private business owners, and members of the ROTC, according to the bill.
Republican lawmakers remain skeptical that it is constitutional under the Second Amendment.
“I want to compliment the sponsor of the bill and other members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee that worked very hard to try to make this bill more constitutional than as originally introduced,” said Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore and Carroll, Monday evening. “That said, the bill is still fatally unconstitutional.”
The bill becomes problematic, he said, when it bans guns in places such as restaurants, which is not protected under the Bruen decision.
“Banning the carrying of guns in restaurants serving alcohol is flagrantly unconstitutional,” said West.
Gun rights advocacy groups such as Maryland Shall Issue also have concerns, despite changes to the language.
“I applaud Senator Waldstreicher for improving the bill – he didn’t improve it enough,” said Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue to Capital News Service. “Even as revised, It is still unconstitutional in its sweep to include multiple places as sensitive places.”
Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll and Frederick, opposed the bill during Monday’s Senate session, saying that Maryland needs to focus on violent crime by repeat offenders instead of targeting law-abiding permit holders.
“Instead we are engaging in this theater where it’s now going to have to be taken to court, and make no mistake, this is going to meet, I believe, a fiery end by the court,” said Ready. “I would say enough is enough, we ought to be encouraging law abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights in a safe and responsible way.”
The bill passed the Senate, 31-16, and now will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee.