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State handgun appeals board gets unfavorable vote from senators

ANNAPOLIS — The first of two state Senate committees controlling the fate of the Handgun Permit Review Board voted in favor of abolishing it on Monday.

In a vote of 10-5, with four members abstaining, the Executive Nominations Committee recommended Maryland dissolve its Handgun Permit Review Board, which allows people with denied or restricted concealed handgun licenses to appeal to change the decision of the Maryland State Police.

The bill will be voted on next by the Judicial Proceedings Committee and then sent to the Senate floor for the full chamber’s consideration.

“I think it’ll pass,” said Chairman Ron Young (D-Frederick). “I think the votes are there.”

The committee’s vote was delayed by more than a week, while the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), consulted with state police on the current concealed handgun review and appeals process. She met with troopers, after which she decided to continue to support her bill to repeal the board and send appeals to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The committee accepted two amendments. The first adds languages back into the law — which was struck during the drafting of the bill — to create an even starting point for handgun applicants and Maryland State Police at the hearing, known as a de novo or “new trial.”

The other amendment changes the legislation to an emergency bill. This change garnered bipartisan support, as it should help prevent a backlog of appeals while the process transitions to the new office. As an emergency bill, however, the bill will need the support of the “extraordinary majority” — or three-fifths — of the Senate when it comes to a floor vote.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), the chairman of Judicial Proceedings, abstained from the vote Monday so he could vote with his committee. He pointed out, however, that the elephant in the room is the underlying legal problems Maryland may have with how it determines who can carry a concealed handgun.

Washington, D.C.’s “good and substantial reason” gun law was recently struck down by the courts, Zirkin said. The state Senate may need to consider if Maryland’s “good and substantial” standard for determining who can carry a concealed gun should be kept, though that was not what they were there to discuss, he said.

Earlier in the session, Judicial Proceedings voted unfavorably, 7-4, on a bill by Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) that would have expanded the state’s concealed carry laws to include self-defense and personal protection — in essence, giving everyone a good and substantial reason to carry a gun.

Sen. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery) and Sen. William Smith (D-Montgomery), who also serve on both committees, abstained from Monday’s vote as well. Young said if there were a legal challenge to the vote, it would be better if the individuals had not voted twice on the issue.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) also abstained from the vote, though he supported the amendments.

“I think it’s helpful that we have a judge making a decision rather than five laypeople. Honestly, it gives me more comfort,” Miller said before the vote.

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