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New handgun license still up in air given backlog

(Sept. 27, 2013) Firearms dealers are reporting that the changes in pistol permitting have been the most onerous part of Maryland’s new firearms restrictions, due to the state’s confusion on how to enact them leading up to the Oct. 1 implementation date.

“No one really knows for sure what’s going on at this point,” said David Littleton of Littleton Firearms in Bishopville, one of many local gun dealers awaiting a definitive resolution on the issue.

Under current state law, the Maryland State Police must approve all handgun purchases via an application with an eight-day waiting period. On Oct. 1, however, anyone receiving a handgun in Maryland must also have a Handgun Qualification License, or HQL, which requires an approved training course of at least four hours as well as fingerprinting.

However, large numbers of prospective handgun purchasers who submitted their purchase for approval before Oct. 1 will not have their purchase approved until after the new legislation goes into effect.

According to the MSP, handgun applications this year, through the end of August, exceed the entirely of last year’s applications by 20 percent. As of Sept. 20, 106,972 purchase applications had been received, according to the MSP. Of those, 52,988 have been processed.

In December last year, before the new firearms restrictions were even finalized, the MSP reported a spike in applications. Two dozen officers from other state agencies were brought on to assist with the work, and application processing was boosted to 21 hours per day, seven days per week. Even still, the MSP continued to fall further behind as the number of new applications outstripped its processing capacity.

This begs the question as to whether or not buyers who submitted their applications before Oct. 1, but are not cleared by the MSP to take possession of their handgun until after that date, will have to have an HQL in order pick their gun up from the dealer.

“We were very misled,” Littleton said. “We were led to believe that all these firearms were going to be allowed to be picked up after Oct. 1, not just the long guns.”

After several reversals and re-reversals, the MSP announced this week that it “will not enforce the requirements of the new law with respect to applicants whose applications are pending as of Oct. 1.”

“In light of the number of currently pending applications—resulting from the unprecedented spike in new applications in recent months—it is a fair, reasoned and appropriate result for those who are waiting for their pending purchase applications to be processed,” the agency said in a statement.

“Persons who submit purchase applications on or after Oct. 1, 2013, unless otherwise exempted by law, will be required to apply for and obtain a handgun qualification license before attempting to purchase a handgun.”

However, the Maryland Attorney General previously told the state legislature that all purchases after Oct. 1 would have to comply with the new standards, regardless of their application date. With the date now imminent, this has not yet been resolved.

“The Attorney General said that handgun purchases after Oct. 1 will have to have the HQL before they pick it up,” said Bob Arthur of Arthur’s Shooters’ Supply in Berlin. “He’s the one that could prosecute gun shop owners for non-compliance.”

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