NEW YORK – On behalf of its client Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Everytown Law announced a win for gun safety in the courts when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Anne Arundel County ordinance that 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 the state gun lobby’s First Amendment challenge and affirmed that the County’s mandated public health disclosures were “more in line with other similar safety warnings – widely applicable and accepted,” and that information about the risks of gun suicide was “factual and not controversial.” The law firm Hogan Lovells served as lead appellate counsel for the County.
“I’m gratified the court has again ruled in favor of Anne Arundel County’s ordinance requiring gun stores to give customers information on suicide prevention, conflict resolution, and mental health resources when they purchase a firearm or ammunition,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. “Ensuring gun owners are aware of accessible mental health and suicide prevention services is a critical step in reducing gun deaths and saving lives.”
“This ruling is a major First Amendment victory for gun safety and we’re thankful the court has affirmed that Anne Arundel County’s ordinance is constitutional,” said Eric Tirschwell, Executive Director and Chief Litigation Counsel at Everytown Law. “Providing factual information about gun safety and suicide prevention to those purchasing firearms is as lawful as it is logical, and it’s long past time the gun lobby abandon its efforts to suppress this life-saving information from their customers.”
“We were honored to work with the team from Anne Arundel County and Everytown Law to defend this important law and help the County address the significant public safety crisis of gun suicides,” said Neal Katyal of Hogan Lovells. “The panel’s decision will set an important First Amendment precedent that is sure to be followed by other courts.”
“Judge Niemeyer’s thoughtful ruling is a major victory for gun safety and common sense,” said Will Havemann of Hogan Lovells, who argued the case in the Fourth Circuit. “As Judge Niemeyer explains, the ordinance does not discourage gun ownership, but instead provides accurate information and best practices to help Anne Arundel County residents use guns safely.”
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. After the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland rejected their challenge, plaintiffs appealed to the Fourth Circuit. The Fourth Circuit again ruled in favor of the County on all issues, recognizing that public health literature about gun suicide — including statements “that access to firearms is a ‘risk factor’ that increases ‘the chance’ of suicide,” and “that the risk can be reduced by the safe storage of firearms”— are “factual and not controversial” and thus compatible with the First Amendment. The Court also affirmed exclusion of plaintiffs’ proffered expert, Professor Gary Kleck – a gun researcher known for his controversial assertions about defensive gun use – as irrelevant. As the court explained, while the County’s mandated public health “advisory surely does not discourage gun ownership or undermine Second Amendment rights, it does encourage generous responses to a serious public health issue, and gun dealers might well find it admirable to join the effort.”
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. 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 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 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 Hogan Lovells and the Anne Arundel County Office of Law, represent Anne Arundel County. County Attorney Gregory J. Swain, Deputy County Attorney Hamilton F. Tyler, and Senior Assistant County Attorney Tamal A. Banton joined the effort on behalf of the Anne Arundel County Office of Law. The Everytown Law team included Eric Tirschwell, Executive Director and Chief Litigation Counsel; James Miller, Senior Counsel; Andrew Nellis, Counsel; and Nina Sudarsan, Counsel. The Hogan Lovells team included Partner Neal Katyal and Senior Associate Will Havemann (who argued the case before the Fourth Circuit).