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Court To Weigh In On Concealed Weapons In Md.

A federal appeals court is considering a challenge to Maryland's handgun permit laws in the case of a man who sued after being denied a concealed carrry permit. At issue is whether Maryland can require people to prove a "good and substantial reason" to exercise a constitutional right.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. So this is the day that a White House taskforce, headed by Vice President Joe Biden releases recommendations on gun control. But the White House is not the only voice in this debate. In Maryland a guns rights group is waiting for a federal appeals court ruling in a case that could make it easier to carry a concealed weapon. As NPR's Allison Keyes reports, what's decided in Maryland could lead to changes in the nation's gun laws.

ALLISON KEYES, BYLINE: Maryland resident Raymond Wollard was granted a license to carry a concealed handgun soon after a 2002 break-in at his home. It was renewed once. But when his second renewal was denied, Wollard filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's requirement that people show a good and substantial reason to carry a weapon.

Lawyer Alan Gura for the non-profit Second Amendment Foundation which brought the case with Wollard explains the argument.

ALAN GURA: The state can't force people to prove their good and substantial reason for exercising something that is, in fact, a right.

KEYES: A federal district judge struck down the good and substantial reason requirement in March, ruling it unconstitutional. But the state appealed. Assistant Maryland Attorney General Matthew Fader told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th circuit in October that without the requirement people could carry loaded handguns...

MATTHEW FADER: In crowded spaces like shopping malls, open-air markets, crowded city streets and transportation hubs.

KEYES: Fader added that the plaintiffs aren't seeking the right to carry in self-defense. He says Wollard and the gun rights group want...

FADER: The right to carry outside the home either for no reason at all or in case...

KEYES: Some other situation develops where one might need a gun. Two U.S. Supreme court decisions - one in an Illinois case and one in a District of Columbia case - struck down laws effectively barring individuals from owning handguns. So far, the court hasn't directly addressed the right to bear arms for self-defense outside of the home.

But Gura and the Second Amendment Foundation are hoping that's about to change.

GURA: At some point the Supreme Court will have to clarify because some courts believe it's not all that clear.

KEYES: Gura cites two ongoing cases that might end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. One from Illinois - where a federal appeals court struck down the state's sweeping law restricting the public carrying of firearms, and one from New York where a federal appeals court upheld the state's requirement that people have proper cause before being granted a carry permit.

Firearm policy expert Daniel Webster has a clear opinion on the nation's gun laws.

DANIEL WEBSTER: They're not strong enough.

KEYES: The director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research was among those meeting with the White House Gun Violence Taskforce this past week. Webster says the most important part of the national conversation in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School is...

WEBSTER: We have an incomplete background check system, in that private sales in many states are completely unregulated.

KEYES: Webster adds that in many states people with criminal histories can legally possess guns. The state of Maryland in the Wollard case, cited the concern that potentially violent people who haven't been convicted of a crime might be able to obtain permits to carry outside the home if the ruling vacating the good and substantial reason requirement is tossed out. But, Webster adds...

WEBSTER: If the courts do make a decision to overturn Maryland's law that's an opportunity for Maryland to begin to, sort of, reexamine what kind of standards do you want to put in place.

KEYES: The federal appeals court ruling in the Maryland case is expected soon. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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