The Maryland Legislature has adopted an express preemption statute. Section 4-209 of the Maryland Criminal Law Code provides that:
” [T]he State preempts the right of a county, municipal corporation, or special taxing district to regulate the purchase, sale, taxation, transfer, manufacture, repair, ownership, possession, and transportation of: a handgun, rifle, or shotgun; andammunition for and components of a handgun, rifle, or shotgun…. A county, municipal corporation, or special taxing district may not prohibit the teaching of or training in firearms safety, or other educational or sporting use of the items listed in subsection (a) of this section. To the extent that a local law does not create an inconsistency with this section or expand existing regulatory control, a county, municipal corporation, or special taxing district may exercise its existing authority to amend any local law that existed on or before December 31, 1984. “
In addition, Maryland preempts the right of any local jurisdiction to regulate the possession,1 sale,2 or transfer3 of firearms regulated by section 5-101 of the Maryland Code of Public Safety, which includes handguns and certain assault weapons.4
Section 4-209(b) of the Maryland Criminal Law Code provides limited exceptions to Maryland’s firearms preemption statute. Local governments may regulate the purchase, sale, transfer, ownership, possession and transportation of firearms and ammunition with respect to:
- Law enforcement officials of the local government
- Activities in or within 100 yards of “a park, church, school, public building, and other place of public assembly.”
In addition, Section 4-209(d) allows local governments to regulate the discharge of firearms, but not at “established ranges.”
Maryland courts have had occasion to address Maryland’s firearms preemption law.
In State v. Phillips, the defendant challenged the City of Baltimore’s Gun Offender Registry Act (GORA) on several grounds, including preemption. The defendant did not contend that section 4-209(a) expressly preempted Baltimore’s GORA. Instead, he argued that the GORA was impliedly preempted because the state had thoroughly regulated the field of gun offenses. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, holding that, although the state “has heavily regulated the field of use, ownership, and possession of firearms … [it] has not so extensively regulated the field of firearm use, possession, and transfer that all local laws relating to firearms are preempted.”6
The Maryland Attorney General has also had occasion to interpret Maryland’s firearms preemption law.
In 1991, the Attorney General concluded that an ordinance generally prohibiting any person from leaving a loaded or unloaded firearm in close proximity to fixed ammunition in any location where the person knows or reasonably should know that an unsupervised minor may gain access to the firearm was “unquestionably” legislation “with respect to minors,” and therefore within the statutory exception provided by section 4-209(b).7 The Attorney General reached the same conclusion with regard to a local ordinance requiring the sale of trigger locks with handguns.8 Note that in both of these opinions, the Attorney General was interpreting the former version of section 4-209(b), which was substantially similar to the current version.
In 2008, the Attorney General concluded that a local ordinance that would require gun owners to report the theft or loss of a firearm within two days of discovering that the weapon had been lost or stolen was not preempted because, apart from the duty to report the loss of the firearm, the ordinance did not otherwise restrict, control, or affect the ownership, possession, or use of firearms; that the measure was consistent with the state law prohibitions against illegal gun trafficking; and that the ordinance did not otherwise conflict with State law.9 In making its determination, the Attorney General noted that, although the General Assembly “has expressly and broadly preempted local regulation of the manufacture, sale, ownership, possession, and transfer of firearms,” it did not intend “to preempt all local laws that are in any degree related to firearms”.
Other Statutory Provisions
Certain political subdivisions in Maryland are expressly preempted from adopting any noise control ordinance, rule or regulation prohibiting target and other shooting activities between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. by a shooting sports club in operation as of certain dates.10 However, certain political subdivisions may adopt noise control regulations that prohibit target shooting between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. by a shooting sports club that the state Department of the Environment determines is not in compliance with environmental noise standards, sound level limits, or noise control rules and regulations as of January 1, 2005.11 The political subdivision may enforce noise control regulations until compliance with environmental standards is met.
For state laws prohibiting local units of government (i.e., cities and counties) from filing certain types of lawsuits against the gun industry, see our page on Immunity Statutes in Maryland.
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- Md. Pub. Safety Code Ann. § 5-133(a).
- Md. Pub. Safety Code Ann. § 5-104.
- Md. Pub. Safety Code Ann. § 5-134(a).
- Md. Pub. Safety Code Ann. § 5-101(r).
- Maryland law defines “minors” as those under the age of 18. Md. Gen. Prov. Code Ann. § 1-103.
- State v. Phillips, 210 MD. App. 239, 280-81 (2013). Note that the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland reached the opposite conclusion. See Blue v. Batth, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9230 (state law “has so thoroughly and pervasively covered the subject of firearms regulation … that any non-specified regulation by local governments is clearly preempted.”), quoting Mora v. City of Gaithersburg, 462 F. Supp. 2d 675 (D. Md. 2006), aff’d as modified by 519 F.3d 216 (4th Cir. 2008). The court noted the conflict in Blue v. Batth, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152604, fn 7, 2017 WL 4162244.
- 76 Op. Att’y Gen. Md. 240 (1991), 1991 Md. AG LEXIS 64.
- 82 Op. Att’y Gen. 84 (1997), 1997 Md. AG LEXIS 5.
- 93 Op. Att’y Gen. 126 (2008).
- Md. Envir. Code Ann. § 3-105(a)(3), (4).
- Md. Envir. Code Ann. § 3-105(a)(4)(ii)(1).