New Maryland Handgun Permit Appellate Opinion

The Maryland Appellate Court decided in the Matter of Mark McCloy, a handgun permit case.

In 1999, Mark McCloy pleaded guilty to witness tampering in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. He was sentenced to six months of home detention and five years of probation.

In 2015, McCloy applied for a Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL). The Maryland State Police (MSP) approved his application. McCloy used this license to purchase several firearms. When he applied for a renewal of his HQL in 2021, police did another background check and discovered his 1999 conviction. The MSP sent McCloy a letter informing him of the permit denial and his right to appeal the decision.

Appellate Process

There are many appeals for denying a handgun license in Maryland.

Administrative Appeal

So McCloy appealed the MSP’s decision to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).  At the hearing, Senior Trooper David Simmons, the officer responsible for examining McCloy’s background and 2021 application, couldn’t precisely explain why the 2015 HQL application was approved after the initial denial. However, he speculated that it may have been due to the 2015 FBI criminal background report and the subsequent MSP investigation, which didn’t provide enough clarity and proof of the exact crime McCloy was convicted of.

Because police have the burden of proving that a conviction is disqualifying and has a limited time to make its decision, Simmons said that without a record showing the nature of McCloy’s conviction, “we would overturn the disapproval because we don’t have hard proof to show what he was convicted of and approve if this is a disqualifying crime.” Simmons noted that the MSP can still disqualify an application if “in a subsequent background check we did catch the mistake,” as he claimed happened in the current dispute regarding the 2021 application.

The OAH affirmed the MSP’s denial of McCloy’s application. The ALJ concluded that McCloy’s federal conviction met the definition of a disqualifying crime under Maryland law. The ALJ also found that McCloy provided false information on his application to hide the federal conviction.

Circuit Court Appeal

McCloy appealed the OAH’s decision to the Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court. The circuit court affirmed its decision to deny McCloy’s application, concluding that his federal conviction is a “disqualifying crime.” This classification is based on the conviction being equivalent to a misdemeanor in Maryland, with a maximum penalty of over two years imprisonment.

Maryland Appellate Court

In the case, McCloy argued that his 1999 conviction could not be considered a disqualifying crime, barring his ability to possess a handgun. He contended that since the equivalent Maryland statute, CR § 9-305, only became effective in 2002, he could not have been charged or convicted under it in 1999. He also argued that the federal law under which he was convicted, 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1), does not sufficiently align with the Maryland statute to be considered equivalent.

Judge Berger wrote that the way to look at a case like this is to compare the elements of the out-of-state statute, which led to the applicant’s conviction, with the elements of an equivalent Maryland misdemeanor statute that carries a penalty of more than two years imprisonment. The court must determine if a reasonable mind could conclude that both statutes aim to prohibit the same conduct. Importantly, and agreeing least in part with McCloy’s argument, the court said that the Maryland statute (and its maximum penalty) should be considered as it existed at the time the applicant requested a Handgun Qualification License (HQL), not at the time of the applicant’s out-of-state conviction.

Next, the reviewing court must determine whether a reasonable mind could conclude that the conduct resulting in the applicant’s out-of-state conviction would be prohibited by the equivalent Maryland statute. If the court answers both questions affirmatively, the MSP’s equivalency determination must be upheld.

In this case, the appeals court agreed with the MSP’s conclusion that McCloy’s 1999 federal conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1) was equivalent to CR § 9-305(a), a misdemeanor in Maryland carrying a maximum penalty of more than two years imprisonment. As a result, his conviction is considered a “disqualifying crime” that prohibits him from possessing a regulated firearm and requires the MSP to deny his HQL application.

The appeals court upheld the ALJ’s ultimate determination and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment, as the circuit court had rightfully modified the ALJ’s conclusions while still affirming the ALJ’s judgment.

Applying for a Handgun Permit in Maryland

To apply for a Handgun Qualification License in Maryland, follow these steps:

  1. Training: Complete a Firearms Safety Training Course conducted by a qualified Maryland State Police-approved Handgun Qualification License (HQL) instructor to comply with Natural Resources Article, §10-301.1. The course must include at least 4 hours of instruction and a live-fire component. There are exceptions for active military and law enforcement officers, so you might want to see if you are exempt if you have prior training.  These classes usually cost a few hundred dollars.
  2. Fingerprinting: Obtain your fingerprints at a Maryland State Police-approved fingerprinting services provider. Make sure to bring a valid government-issued photo ID. The fingerprints will be submitted electronically to the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
  3. Create an account: Go to the Maryland State Police Online Services website and create an account.
  4. Apply online: Log in to your account and complete the Handgun Qualification License application. You must provide personal information, details about the completed firearms safety training course, and the tracking number for your fingerprint submission. There is a non-refundable application fee, which can be paid online using a credit card. Here is the fee schedule.
  5. Submit your application: After completing the application, submit it electronically. You will receive a confirmation email once your application has been successfully submitted.
  6. Wait for the review process: The Maryland State Police Licensing Division will review your application, conduct a background check, and determine your eligibility. This process may take up to 90 days.
  7. Receive the decision: If your application is approved, you will receive your Handgun Qualification License in the mail. If your application is denied, you will be notified of the reason for the denial, and you may appeal the decision.