End the hand­gun board

It’s time to dis­band a body that has made re­vers­ing state po­lice and un­wisely hand­ing out (or re­duc­ing re­stric­tions on) con­ceal carry per­mits rou­tine

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION -

Our view:

Bal­ti­more Sen. Bill Fer­gu­son and his fel­low mem­bers of the Se­nate Ex­ec­u­tive Nom­i­na­tions Com­mit­tee are hold­ing up Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s lat­est three nom­i­nees for the Mary­land Hand­gun Per­mit Re­view Board, but the real prob­lem isn’t in that Se­nate panel. It’s in the re­view board — with or with­out the new mem­bers. Since Gov­er­nor Ho­gan took of­fice, the board has in­creas­ingly pro­vided a loop­hole to al­low Mary­land hand­gun own­ers an op­por­tu­nity to ob­tain a con­cealed carry per­mit af­ter they are turned down by the Mary­land State Po­lice.

Some re­ver­sals would be rea­son­able. What gov­ern­ment agency in­ter­prets the law per­fectly ev­ery time? But what’s be­come in­creas­ingly ap­par­ent is that the hand­gun board un­der the con­trol of Ho­gan ap­pointees is not merely con­tent to cor­rect MSP mis­takes, it’s look­ing to wa­ter down Mary­land’s hard-won and court-tested re­stric­tions on hand­gun per­mits. In the 12 months from mid-De­cem­ber of 2017 to mid-Novem­ber of last year, the board mod­i­fied or over­turned MSP hand­gun per­mit de­ci­sions 222 times, sus­tain­ing the po­lice agency’s de­ci­sion just 37 times, ac­cord­ing to the board’s most re­cent ac­count­ing. Those are not the ac­tions of a “re­view” board, that’s the pat­tern of a “re­ver­sal” board.

It’s one thing to seek to re­lax Mary­land’s hand­gun per­mit re­stric­tions through leg­is­la­tion. We think that putting more hand­guns on the streets would be a mis­take, but such an above-board ef­fort is how a democ­racy works. It’s quite an­other to use a civil­ian board with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence in crime fight­ing or the statute in ques­tion to se­cretly un­der­mine the law. (And many of their hear­ings are closed to the pub­lic, so “se­cretly” ap­pears to be how this board rolls.)

That rate of re­ver­sal is not only lu­di­crous, but the high ap­peals rate (the board used to hear only a hand­ful of cases a year) is ridicu­lous, too. Clearly, word has got­ten out to the gun rights com­mu­nity that pretty much any­thing goes with the hand­gun board. Get de­nied or even re­stricted by state po­lice? Don’t worry. Just ap­peal it (and ask for a closed hear­ing). The board will take the broad­est in­ter­pre­ta­tion pos­si­ble of the “good and sub­stan­tial rea­son” stan­dard of state law. Those who have mon­i­tored cases on be­half of Mary­lan­ders to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence say the only peo­ple who lose are those who don’t show up for their hear­ings or are sim­ply pro­hib­ited from own­ing a firearm by law, per­haps be­cause they are a con­victed felon.

Shame on Gov­er­nor Ho­gan for nom­i­nat­ing peo­ple who have so lit­tle re­spect for law en­force­ment and the stan­dards MSP has de­vel­oped over the years, but the big­ger shame is on the leg­is­la­ture for al­low­ing this to con­tinue. Last year, law­mak­ers of­fered a bill that would have elim­i­nated the re­view board and handed hand­gun per­mit ap­peals de­ci­sions to the state’s ad­min­is­tra­tive law judges, who are far more qual­i­fied to in­ter­pret the law and pro­vide more con­sis­tency from one gu­ber­na­to­rial ad­min­is­tra­tion to the next. The mea­sure was di­luted af­ter it ran into re­sis­tance in the Se­nate Ju­di­cial Pro­ceed­ings Com­mit­tee to re­quire the hand­gun board to do a bet­ter job of re­port­ing its de­ci­sions. That’s been a help but hardly cor­rec­tive.

What’s needed right now is a re­vival of last year’s stalled so­lu­tion. Surely, with the board’s 2018 re­sults in hand, sen­a­tors can’t deny the re­al­ity of what’s hap­pen­ing. Se­na­tor Fer­gu­son would be wise to keep a hold on all three of the board’s nom­i­nees (they are cur­rently serv­ing as re­cess ap­point­ments) un­til that mea­sure is res­ur­rected and ap­proved by the full leg­is­la­ture. Mere com­pi­la­tions of sta­tis­tics sim­ply aren’t go­ing to change the minds of ide­o­logue nom­i­nees this com­mit­ted to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of firearms. The no­tion that the more peo­ple car­ry­ing guns the safer will be the streets of Bal­ti­more (and across Mary­land) sim­ply isn’t backed up by the facts. Stud­ies show right-to-carry states are higher-crime states. We can’t let Mary­land move in that direc­tion, whether it’s through leg­is­la­tion in An­napo­lis or by way of the back door op­er­ated by the hand­gun board.

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