ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A federal appeals court upheld a county law in Maryland on Tuesday that requires gun dealers to distribute information about suicide prevention, conflict resolution and mental health resources.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled in favor of the Anne Arundel County law approved in 2022. The panel rejected an appeal on First Amendment grounds by the gun rights group Maryland Shall Issue and four gun store owners, after a federal judge ruled in favor of the county.
In the decision released Tuesday, Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote that the county law required the pamphlets as a health and safety advisory, informing purchasers of the nature, causes, and risks of suicides and the role that guns play in them.
While the literature points out that “access” to firearms is a “risk factor,” the judge wrote that the pamphlets doesn’t suggest to the reader that he or she should not purchase a firearm.
“More particularly, we do not read it to suggest to firearm purchasers that firearms should not be purchased because doing so causes suicide. Rather, the pamphlet is more in line with other similar safety warnings — widely applicable and accepted — that gun owners should store guns safely, especially to prevent misuse and child access,” Niemeyer wrote.
Judges Roger Gregory and Toby Heytens joined the opinion.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman commended the ruling for requiring gun stores to give customers the information.
“Ensuring gun owners are aware of accessible mental health and suicide prevention services is a critical step in reducing gun deaths and saving lives,” Pittman said.
Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, said he thought the ruling was “grievously wrong,” because it compels speech at a place of commercial establishment.
“That’s never been the law,” Pennak said. “It’s contrary to Supreme Court precedent, and it would invite wholesale unconstitutional action by governments.”
Pennak said he is considering an appeal to either the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.
After a mass shooting that left five people dead at the Capital Gazette newsroom in 2018, Pittman created a task force to recommend ways to help reduce gun violence. The task force recommended that the county establish a partnership with gun sellers, gun safety advocacy organizations and agencies working to prevent domestic violence and suicide.
In 2022, the Anne Arundel County Council passed a measure that directed the county’s health department to distribute literature about “gun safety, gun training, suicide prevention, mental health, and conflict resolution” to stores that sell firearms and ammunition. It also required the stores to display the pamphlets and to distribute them with the purchase of guns and ammunition.
The literature consists of a pamphlet jointly authored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention concerning firearms and suicide prevention, as well as a one-page insert developed by the county concerning local resources for suicide and conflict prevention.