Anne Arundel Gun Law Case Could Set National Precedent for Warning Labels

Local law that passed 7-0 amongst Anne Arundel Council still faces challenges from gun rights advocate group Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. 

A recent Maryland Matters article shared an amicus brief filed on behalf of seven medical organizations in support of Anne Arundel as they continue to defend themselves against gun rights advocate group, Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. The amicus brief was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where the plaintiff has requested the court’s consideration in an attempt to overturn the original ruling, made by U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher, in favor of Anne Arundel County. If the court decides to take up the case, the next ruling could establish a precedent with national implications.

The brief and a separate press release from The Maryland State Medical Society focused heavily on the public health risk that guns represent in communities.

From the press release:

…County and other state and local governments must be able to respond to the untenable levels of firearm violence, including suicide and violence against others, by requiring the distribution to firearm purchasers of potentially lifesaving information concerning suicide prevention, conflict resolution, and secure firearm storage.

The original ruling on the case stemmed from a challenge by Maryland Shall Issue, Inc of a local ordinance passed in 2022 by a unanimous vote from the Anne Arundel County council. This local law required gun retailers in the county to distribute pamphlets created by the Anne Arundel County Health Department that offer information regarding suicide prevention, mental health, non-violent conflict resolution, and gun safety. Gun retailers are expected to display and distribute the literature with gun purchases under this law.

The initial contest from the plaintiffs argued that requiring gun retailers to provide these materials threatens their First Amendment rights with compelled speech by the county government. According to the Maryland Matters article, the retailers are trying to put an end the county law with the challenge and seeking financial relief for nominal damages and attorneys’ fees if they win the case.

The memorandum opinion from Judge Gallagher shared that for the county law to stand the pamphlets must be all of the following:

  1. commercial speech
  2. purely factual and uncontroversial information
  3. reasonably related to the County’s interest

From the ruling in March:

Ultimately, this case is not about limiting gun ownership or stigmatizing firearms. This case is about the correlative link between access to firearms and the risk of suicide or violent conflict resolution, and about the County’s ability to take reasonable steps to mitigate that risk. Because the County’s actions do not infringe Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, summary judgment in the County’s favor is warranted.

Following the favorable ruling in March, the Anne Arundel County Health Department issued a letter to retailers reminding them that they must continue to abide by the law as it stands. As of now, no decision has been published on the Fourth Circuit’s willingness to hear the case. The current docket for the Fall of 2023 does not include the Anne Arundel case.

Read the full Maryland Matters article.

Read the full amicus brief from the medical organizations.