4th Circuit Applies Intermediate Scrutiny In Uphold Maryland’s Near-Blanket Ban on Concealed Carry

March 21st, 2013

Here is the most important part of the opinion.

In these circumstances, we can easily appreciate Maryland’s impetus to enact measures aimed at protecting public safety and preventing crime, and we readily conclude that such objectives are substantial governmental interests. See,e.g., Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of W. N.Y., 519 U.S. 357, 376 (1997) (referring to “the significant governmental interest in public safety”); United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 750 (1987) (characterizing “the Government’s general interest in preventing crime” as “compelling”); United States v. Chapman, 666 F.3d 220, 227 (4th Cir. 2012) (relying on Schenck and Salerno in holding “that reducing domestic gun violence is a substantial governmental objective”); Masciandaro, 638 F.3d at 473 (same in concluding that “the government has a substantial interest in providing for the safety of individuals who visit and make use of the national parks”). The district court itself recognized that, “[b]eyond peradventure, public safety and the prevention of crime are substantial, indeed compelling, government interests.” Woollard, 863 F. Supp. 2d at 473.

For their part, the Appellees concede that “a compelling government interest in public safety” generally exists, but they maintain “that no legitimate government interest is at stake” here, because the State “cannot have an interest in suppressing a fundamental right” — including what the Appellees assert, and we assume, is the Second Amendment right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to carry handguns in public for the purpose of self-defense. See Br. of Appellees 61- 62; see also McDonald, 130 S. Ct. at 3042 (declaring “that the Framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty”).7 The Appellees would have us place the right to arm oneself in public on equal footing with the right to arm oneself at home, necessitating that we apply strict scrutiny in our review of the good-and-substantial-reason requirement.

Unfortunately for the Appellees, their argument is foreclosed by our precedent. First, in Chester, we rejected the proposition that we must “apply strict scrutiny whenever a law impinges upon a [fundamental] right.” 628 F.3d at 682 (employing intermediate, rather than strict, scrutiny in Chester’s Second Amendment challenge to ban on firearm possession by domestic violence misdemeanants). Then, ruling in Masciandaro that intermediate scrutiny applies to laws burdening the assumed right to carry firearms in public, we recognized a “longstanding out-of-the-home/in-the-home distinction bear[ing] directly on the level of scrutiny applicable.” 638 F.3d at 470. The Appellees therefore do not dissuade us from applying intermediate scrutiny, or from concluding that Maryland’s interests in protecting public safety and preventing crime satisfy the “significant governmental interest” aspect of the intermediate scrutiny standard.

However, as Eugene Volokh notes, if simply have a public-safety rational is all that is needed to satisfy intermediate scrutiny, the right to bear arms is no much of a right.

This also reflects, I think, the fact that intermediate scrutiny (which requires that “the legislature’s policy choice substantially serves a significant governmental interest”), coupled with deference to the legislature’s factual judgments (“[i]t is the legislature’s job, not ours, to weigh conflicting evidence and make policy judgments”), essentially means per se validation of pretty much all gun controls that will be tested under such scrutiny. The legislature will always be able to assert a significant governmental interest in preventing crime, reducing the use of police resources, and so on, and will nearly always be able to plausibly argue that it has “weigh[ed] conflicting evidence” in concluding that the law “substantially serves” the interest. (Intermediate scrutiny without deference to legislative weighing of evidence might offer more protection, but that’s not the intermediate scrutiny being applied in this case.) Indeed, the same might even apply to strict scrutiny, except that courts might be more reluctant to read strict scrutiny as essentially eviscerating the right than they are as to intermediate scrutiny (and courts might be more inclined not to defer to legislative conclusions about facts under strict scrutiny).

And now, we have several 4th Circuit precedents that build up this wall. SCOTUS will have to clean this up eventually.