VICTORY FOR GUN SAFETY IN THE COURTS: Federal Court Upholds Ordinance Requiring Gun Stores to Provide Life-Saving Information on Gun Safety and Suicide Prevention
NEW YORK – Everytown Law, the largest group of litigators in the country dedicated to advancing gun violence prevention in the courts, announced a win for gun safety in the courts when the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland upheld an Anne Arundel County ordinance 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. In a ruling with far-reaching implications, the court rejected a First Amendment challenge to the ordinance.
“Anne Arundel County passed this important ordinance to provide factual, life-saving information about gun safety, suicide prevention, and mental health to those purchasing deadly weapons,” said Eric Tirschwell, Executive Director and Chief Litigation Counsel at Everytown Law. “This ordinance has been upheld because it is a constitutional and common-sense way to accomplish our goal of preventing suicide and saving lives from gun violence.”
“I am pleased that the court determined the Firearm and Suicide Prevention pamphlets and the conflict resolution inserts created by the County’s Gun Violence Intervention Team and the Department of Health reasonably support our efforts to prevent gun-related suicides and deaths,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. “Educating gun owners about available mental health and suicide prevention resources ultimately helps save lives.”
The challenge was brought by the gun rights organization Maryland Shall Issue, Inc. and four gun retailers in Anne Arundel County that contended the ordinance violated their First Amendment rights. The court ruled against them, recognizing that “access to firearms is a risk factor for suicide” and that the County could therefore require gun stores to distribute the pamphlets as a measure that is “reasonably related to the County’s interest in preventing suicide and violence.” The court also excluded the expert report of Professor Gary Kleck – a gun researcher known for his controversial assertions about defensive gun use – as irrelevant. As the court explained, “this case is not about limiting gun ownership or stigmatizing firearms. This case is about the correlative link between access to firearms and the risk of suicide or violent conflict resolution, and about the County’s ability to take reasonable steps to mitigate that risk.”
Following the deadly mass shooting at the Annapolis, Maryland office of The Capital Gazette on June 28, 2018, County Executive Steuart Pittman created the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force to study gun violence within the County and recommend actions to help reduce gun violence in the County. 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, Anne Arundel County Council passed Bill 108-21 which directs 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 and requires gun stores to display this literature and to distribute it along with the purchase of firearms 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.
Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, along with the Anne Arundel County Office of Law, represent Anne Arundel County. The Everytown Law team representing Anne Arundel County includes Eric Tirschwell, Executive Director and Chief Litigation Counsel; James Miller, Senior Counsel; Andrew Nellis, Counsel; and Nina Sudarsan, Counsel.