Led by West Virginia’s attorney general, 21 states have joined a legal effort seeking to overturn Maryland’s tough new gun control law.
The Maryland statute has no effect on gun laws in their states, but the attorneys general argue in an amicus brief filed this month that Maryland’s law was written too broadly and violates the Second Amendment rights of their citizens.
“States must band together in times when they see citizens’ rights being diminished or infringed upon,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in statement released when he filed the brief. “If the courts decide this law passes muster, it would undermine a core part of the Second Amendment.”
Morrisey, who declined to be interviewed, said Maryland’s ban on the sale of military-style weapons is akin to “trying to impose a content-based ban on speech. It simply cannot be done.”
A federal court ruled that Maryland’s ban on 45 types of semiautomatic rifles is constitutional. The coalition of gun owners and gun-rights groups that challenged the law is appealing the decision by the U.S. District Court of Maryland. The attorneys general have joined that effort.
Maryland has not yet filed its response, due by the end of the year.
Legal experts say that while it is generally unusual for states to weigh in on laws that do not directly affect them, it is common in divisive issues such as gun control.
“They don’t want certain types of regulations to get court-sanctioned because they’re afraid it will become a precedent in their states,” said Stephen J. Oren, a Rockville lawyer who chairs the Maryland Bar Association’s state litigation section. “So they take the pre-emptive step of filing in cases that don’t involve them.”
Maryland’s gun law, proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and passed by the General Assembly in 2013, was among the most stringent enacted after the massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. It is one of three, all passed after Newtown, that gun-rights activists are fighting in federal courts.
Judge Catherine C. Blake upheld Maryland’s ban in August, rejecting the argument that military-style weapons are in common use for self-defense and therefore protected by the Second Amendment. Blake wrote that she considered the ban a legitimate way to improve public safety.