VICTORY FOR THE SECOND MAMENDMENT
On March 2, Judge Benson Everett Legg of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland decided that Maryland’s handgun regulation violated the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. This well-reasoned decision stands as important precedent against the exercise of arbitrary will by state authorities who wish to deprive citizens of their right to carry handguns outside the home for purposes of self-defense. In an age of increasing lawlessness and less than adequate police protection, this decision helps shift the balance in favor of the right to bear arms, reasserting the primacy of the Founding Fathers’ construct.
It was just one month ago that United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer suffered first hand the indignity and horror of an armed confrontation that could have been altered fundamentally had a person in his entourage been armed with a gun. Justice Breyer was robbed by a machete-wielding robber at his vacation home on the Caribbean Island of Nevis. One wonders if Justice Breyer or another in his entourage had trained a handgun on the intruder whether that would have dissuaded him from the robbery. While every circumstance is unique, and it may have been the better part of valor in Breyer’s robbery to simply allow the intruder to abscond with cash, clearly if the robber threatened the lives of the Justice, his wife, and his friends, resort to a handgun could have evened the score in a manner akin to Indiana Jones’ dispatch of his scimitar-wielding opponent in “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb.”
At least in Maryland, citizens will enjoy the right to do just that and more. In Woollard v. Sheridan, et. al., Judge Legg confronted a Maryland law that permitted Maryland’s Handgun Permit Review Board to refuse a gun permit to anyone the board believed failed to demonstrate “good and substantial reason” for having a handgun. The plaintiff, Raymond Woollard, lived on a farm in rural Baltimore County. On Christmas Eve 2002, an intruder broke a window in his home and entered his house. The intruder was Woollard’s son-in-law, Kris Lee Abbott, who was high on drugs. Woollard trained a shotgun on Abbott who then wrestled the gun away from Woollard, but Woollard was rescued by his son who pointed another gun at Abbott until police arrived and arrested the burglar. Abbott was convicted of first degree burglary and sentenced to three years’ probation. Abbott later violated his probation by assaulting a police officer and committing another burglary.
Woollard had a handgun carry permit, which he sought to renew in 2009. As part of the permit renewal process, Woollard was asked to submit evidence to support the conclusion that he “apprehended fear” as a “good and substantial reason” for possessing a handgun outside the home. The Handgun Permit Review Board denied Woollard a permit because he “ha[d] 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.”
In assessing Maryland’s handgun regulation, Judge Legg found it in facial violation of the Second Amendment because, on its face, it gave licensing officials virtually unbridled discretion. In particular, he found the fit between the regulation and the government’s interest in preventing crime and injury to be inadequate. Indeed, he determined that “[i]f anything, the Maryland regulation puts firearms in the hands of those most likely to use them in a violent situation by limiting the issuance of permits to ‘groups of individuals who are at greater risk than others of being the victims of crime.’” We might also add that the inquiry is absurd on its face because it is impossible to discern who, in an individual case, is likely to be the next victim of crime; we are all vulnerable. The Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board members are not soothsayers, and the law cannot condone soothsaying as a rational means to predict crime and injury. Judge Legg concluded that “Maryland’s goal of ‘minimizing the proliferation of handguns among those who do not have a demonstrated need for them,’ is not a permissible method of preventing crime or ensuring public safety; it burdens the right too broadly.” Indeed.
In an important part of the decision, Judge Legg interpreted the term “bear” in the Second Amendment (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”). He reasoned that the term “bear” plainly implies a right to possess arms outside the home. Quoting from the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, he explained that the meaning of the term “bear” is to “wear, bear, or carry . . . upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose . . . of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.” There is in this meaning no restriction that would limit exercise of the right to the home.
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In an age of increasing lawlessness and inadequate police protection, the essential right to bear arms, a right protected by the Constitution regardless of any subjective evaluation of the relative need for a weapon in a particular case, becomes ever more important. No less a figure than Justice Breyer comprehends personally just how grave a circumstance it can be if an armed person confronts you and you possess no weapon in self defense. There are times when the rule of law and reason afford no defense. At those times, might determines the outcome. To ensure freedom, law enforcement can never become so ubiquitous as to ensure its availability at every moment when violence is about to occur. There is always a need for self-defense. For those times, the right to bear arms is a right to life and derives its legitimacy from the unalienable natural right of self-defense which no just government can deprive its people.
© 2012 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved