A federal judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction allowing firearms in specific locations, in a pivotal decision just days before a new Maryland state law was set to restrict the carrying of firearms in public.
The ruling, which blocks part of the law and allows part of the law, was praised by both Republicans and Democrats.
U.S. District Court Judge George L. Russell III, a nominee of former President Barack Obama, issued his order and a comprehensive 40-page opinion on Friday, following multiple legal challenges to the Gun Safety Act of 2023.
The law was challenged in the court after it was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat.
Known as Senate Bill 1, or SB 1, the law included wide-reaching restrictions on where firearms could be carried. However, the preliminary injunction allows guns in certain places, including some businesses that sell alcohol, private buildings, and near public demonstrations.
Meanwhile, the broader provisions of the law will still largely take effect on Sunday, limiting the ability to carry guns at numerous other public places, including museums, health care facilities, school grounds, parks, mass transit facilities, government buildings, stadiums, race tracks, amusement parks, and casinos.
Republicans in the state's General Assembly and Senate celebrated the preliminary injunction as a victory.
“The Court has recognized that so many of the restrictions the far-left wing of the General Assembly tried to place on lawful, peaceful gun owners went way beyond the bounds of what is constitutionally allowed,” said House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany).
“During the debate on Senate Bill 1, the members of the House Republican Caucus repeatedly and exhaustively warned our Democratic colleagues that parts of this bill went too far.”
Maryland Senate Republicans called the court's decision a "win for public safety" while decrying state Democrats for trying to "pass unconstitutional laws to strip away the rights of law-abiding citizens."
The ruling was also welcomed by one of the plaintiffs, Cody J. Wisniewski, general counsel and vice president of legal at the FPC Action Foundation.
"We’re elated that the Court has seen the error of Maryland’s ways and has prevented the state from enforcing certain provisions of its law prohibiting peaceable carry permit holders from carrying their arms in a vast number of locations around the state," said Mr. Wisniewski in a statement.
Mr. Wisniewski noted that the court didn't grant his motion in full, allowing Maryland to enforce restrictions on some locations, and said his legal organization was "evaluating its next steps.”
Democrats, meanwhile, were happy that the broader provisions of the law banning guns in a number of locations remained intact.
Democrats Should 'Abandon Their Political Agenda'Democrats in the Maryland legislature sought to restrict where guns can be carried after the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2022 decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which effectively struck down Maryland's prior gun permitting laws limiting concealed carry permits.
The Gun Safety Act of 2023 redefined where guns may be carried, dividing locations into three broadly defined types: areas for "children and vulnerable individuals," "government or public infrastructure" areas, and a "special purpose area," which includes places where the public gathers for entertainment, education, or other social events.
Legal challenges to the law were filed the same day the governor signed the bill into law. The lawsuits disputed the law's constitutionality and sought to prevent its implementation.
Judge Russell upheld most restrictions in the new law but took issue with designating businesses selling alcohol as sensitive places and the blanket prohibition of guns in private buildings without owner consent. He also expressed concerns about firearms restrictions at public demonstrations, which he believed could face potential constitutional challenges.
Maryland Senate Minority Leader Steve Hershey, a Republican, said Democrats should "abandon their political agenda and focus on saving our crime-ridden cities."
While some restrictions remain in place under existing law, such as the ban on carrying firearms while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the ability for businesses to post bans on firearms, the judge's ruling signifies a significant development in Maryland's gun law landscape.
The lawsuits also challenge the constitutionality of House Bill 824, which introduces additional provisions on who can possess firearms and raises the age for a legal purchase from an adult to 21.
Both sides are expected to submit a joint status report on the case within the next two weeks.