EXCLUSIVE — Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R-MT) filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit over a Maryland county law he says is defying the Supreme Court‘s landmark Second Amendment test by establishing “unconstitutional” gun-free buffer zones.
A group of 18 attorneys general led by Knudsen filed the brief Monday at the Virginia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, asking the court to side with plaintiffs who say it is “practically impossible” to carry a gun for personal defense in Maryland’s most populous county, Montgomery County, due to a restrictive gun control law passed in late November.
When asked why Montana sought to intervene over a Maryland county law, Knudsen told the Washington Examiner that the Second Amendment is one of his “personal passion issues.”
“I’m a hunter. I’m a reloader. I’m a competitive shooter. I’m a bit of a gun nut — so I keep a pretty close eye on these things,” Knudsen said. “And I firmly believe that as some of these states go, if left unchallenged, we’ll see this kind of nonsense regulation and, frankly, unconstitutional laws being attempted in other places, not just in Maryland.”
Montana’s assistant solicitor general wrote in the brief first provided to the Washington Examiner that Section 57 of Montgomery County Code “prohibits the sale, transfer, or possession of firearms ‘[i]n or within 100 yards of a place of public assembly.'”
Section 57 defines a “place of public assembly” as a list of locations, including a public or private “‘park,’ ‘place of worship,’ ‘school,’ ‘library,’ ‘recreational facility,’ ‘multipurpose exhibition facility,’ or ‘childcare facility,'” the brief reads, noting that each “‘place of public assembly’ includes all property associated with the place, such as a parking lot or grounds of a building.”
The 19 states back the group Maryland Shall Issue and several “wear and carry permit” holder plaintiffs who say the law that altered the county’s code, Bill 21-22E, effectively bars anyone besides designated security guards and active police officers from carrying a gun in public for self-defense.
It’s “practically impossible for a permit holder to legally carry a handgun for self-defense within the county,” according to MSI’s webpage.
The plaintiffs were denied a motion in federal district court on July 6 for a preliminary injunction against the law, which is now in effect and makes the “entire urban area and many areas in the rural segments of Montgomery County” off-limits for carry by permit holders, the plaintiffs argue. Now, they are seeking the 4th Circuit to renew their motion for an injunction pending appeal.
In the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Bruen v. New York Rifle & Pistol Association, the 6-3 majority held that governments can regulate, but cannot prohibit, the public carrying of guns by law-abiding citizens for purposes of self-defense. The high court did say legislators could continue to identify “sensitive places” for gun-free zones, though it did not explain what counts as “sensitive,” leaving the matter for lower courts to decide in disputes such as MSI’s complaint.
The crux of the Bruen ruling held that constitutional gun restrictions must be analogous to the regulations that were in effect during the passage of the Second Amendment in 1791 or when the right to keep and bear arms was extended to the states in 1868 under the 14th Amendment.
Knudsen’s office argued that aside from a “handful” of state laws and local ordinances from the late 19th century, “the historical record doesn’t show an ‘enduring American tradition’ of restricting the right to carry in places of worship, public parks, recreational and multipurpose exhibition facilities, public libraries, or in buffer zones surrounding those locations.”
“Bruen’s list of ‘settled’ sensitive places omits places of worship, parks, recreational facilities, multipurpose exhibition facilities, public libraries, and buffer zones, so the County must still show that these regulations are part of an enduring American tradition of firearm regulation,” Montana’s brief read.
The brief was also signed by the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Montgomery County’s council passed Bill 21-22E on Nov. 15 last year by an 8-0 vote. Former Council President Gabe Albornoz, the bill’s chief sponsor, said, “This legislation will help to ensure that we do everything possible to minimize the number of guns in our public space,” in a statement after the vote.
“I continue to believe that guns create immeasurably more problems, often with tragic consequences than they attempt to solve,” Albornoz added at the time.
Several Democratic-led states, including the Empire State and Maryland, have passed laws in response to the Bruen decision that have sought to impose restrictions on carrying weapons in public spaces.
Outside of the Montgomery County dispute, legal battles are also percolating over the state of Maryland’s similar SB1 law, signed by Gov. Wes Moore (D-MD) on May 16, which increases concealed carry permit fees and expands the number of “gun-free zones” in the state. The National Rifle Association is presently fighting that law in the case Kipke v. Moore, while other gun groups, including MSI and the Firearms Policy Coalition, are challenging it in the case Novotny v. Moore.
A response from Montgomery County’s counsel is due to the 4th Circuit by Sept. 19, and the parties may issue a reply within 21 days of the county’s response.
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