Anne Arundel County, MD – Everytown Law is proud to represent Anne Arundel County, Maryland in defense of County Bill 108-21, which requires gun stores in the County to give customers information on suicide prevention, conflict resolution, and mental health resources when they purchase a firearm or ammunition.
Following a deadly mass shooting at the Annapolis, Maryland office of The Capital Gazette on June 28, 2018, Anne Arundel County established a Gun Violence Intervention Team to study gun violence within the County and make recommendations on how to curtail this public health crisis. As part of this effort, the Anne Arundel County Council passed Bill 108-21 on January 10, 2022, which 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. The County Health Department selected 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. Bill 108-21 requires gun stores to display this literature and to distribute it along with the purchase of firearms and ammunition.
On April 11, 2022, Maryland Shall Issue (“MSI”), Inc., representing four firearm dealers in the County, filed a challenge in federal court alleging that the distribution of these pamphlets violates the First Amendment rights of the stores and their customers. After engaging in fact and expert discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment in the fall of 2022.
On March 21, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland entered judgment for the County, ruling that Bill 108-21 does not violate the plaintiffs’ rights. Recognizing that “access to firearms is a risk factor for suicide,” the court ruled that the “pamphlets are reasonably related to the County’s interest in preventing suicide and violence.”
MSI appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Following briefing and oral argument, on January 23, 2024 the Circuit Court affirmed, finding that the County’s mandated public health messaging was “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.” The court also concluded that statements about (a) the prevalence of gun suicide, (b) that access to firearms is a risk factor for suicide, and (c) that secure storage can mitigate that risk “are factual and not controversial.” As a result, the court “ha[d] no trouble concluding that the mandated literature” satisfies the First Amendment under the controlling framework of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio, 471 U.S. 626 (1985). Everytown was assisted by the law firm Hogan Lovells, which served as lead appellate counsel for the County.
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