A. Dwight Pettit: Civil Rights champion says Maryland concealed weapon law discriminates against Blacks - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

A. Dwight Pettit: Civil Rights champion says Maryland concealed weapon law discriminates against Blacks

Gun in holster with flag By Alien Gear Holster - http://aliengearholsters.com, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38582002

It’s no secret that crime rates in Baltimore are at all-time highs. With more that 320 murders this year and luckless tourists being beaten in the streets, the illusion of safety conjured with the whimsical moniker “Charm City” has given way to “Murdermore.” City residents are mortified as they consider the almost nightly bloodbath, and a beleaguered police department is in no position to assuage their fears.

The streets – and in many cases even the family homes – are simply not safe. But try to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon for personal protection in Baltimore and you’ll wonder whose side Maryland lawmakers are on.

Few subjects in America are as polarizing as the issues surrounding the right to bear arms. Yet when it comes to the area of self-defense, people from both sides of the debate are starting to find common cause. That was evident on Saturday, when Baltimore attorney and veteran civil rights activist, A. Dwight Pettit, addressed the quarterly meeting of the group, Maryland Shall Issue.

The meeting took place in the assembly hall of Baltimore’s War Memorial Building.

Civil Rights attorney A. Dwight Pettit talking about his struggle to obtain a concealed weapon permit in Maryland. (Anthony C. Hayes)

A. Dwight Pettit talked about his struggle to obtain a concealed weapon permit. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Maryland Shall Issue (MSI) is an all volunteer, non-partisan organization dedicated to the preservation and advancement of gun owners’ rights in Maryland. MSI seeks to educate the community about the right of self-protection, the safe handling of firearms, and the responsibility that goes with carrying a firearm in public.

Pettit spoke for some thirty minutes about his personal journey in trying to obtain a concealed weapon permit. His story served as backdrop to the difficulty Baltimore City residents face in securing and using a gun for self-defense.

“What’s happening with crime in Baltimore City has reached emergency proportions,” said Pettit. “There is a great concern amongst citizens who want to protect themselves, but there seems to be a racial disparity when it comes to obtaining a carry permit. I think this gets into the legal theory of equal protection under the law.

“The question is: How do you obtain the data? Does it come through the Freedom of Information Act or through the litigatory process?”

Pettit recalled two landmark cases he was involved with in the 70’s, where racial inequities were exposed through the legal system. One dealt with the number of African-Americans admitted to the Maryland State Bar. The other centered on race-based arrests. In both cases, the suits relied heavily on statistical information.

“In applying for gun permits today in Maryland, race is something that is requested on the application. If they have those statistics, then they would also have information on people who have been granted or denied a permit. If the litigatory process is moving forward, that would have to be part of the grounds for establishing an equal protection argument.

Race is one of the lines an applicant must enter on the Maryland State Police Concealed Weapon Permit application.

“I believe the courts have established that, if you can show a statistical imbalance, then you have shown a prima facie case for the other side to come back and refute that evidence – that there is no discrimination.

“We have a big problem in Maryland. I’m going through the process, even as we speak. Back in the 70’s, I had a permit to carry, because I was doing my own investigations. I was going into neighborhoods where frankly no one should go, to take measurements at crime scenes and so forth. I renewed my permit once, but the second time around I let my permit expire. But given the situation today, I feel a need to once again carry a firearm.”

Pettit said his current concealed weapon permit application has been in the works for well over six months. Some of the hurdles he has had to jump have included providing the state with his decades-old military service records in lieu of mandatory firearm training; appearing for an interview to corroborate information he had affirmed on his application; and producing business financial records – including his banking deposit slips.

“The officer at the interview also asked about references – even though he said he sees me on television all of the time.

“Now, after months of this process, I am waiting. And I’m sure if I am approved, (the permit) will come with so many restrictions it will be almost useless.”

As an example of the onerous restrictions law abiding citizens face, Pettit noted he has represented a number of uniformed security officers who were cited for carrying legal service weapons.

Guardsmen stand at the entrance to Johns Hopkins Hospital in the aftermath of the Baltimore Riots. (Anthony C. Hayes)

“These people were going to or leaving work, and the police – in a capricious manner – refused to accept their travel needs and dragged them into criminal court.

“These individuals had authority; they were in uniform; they had a license, and yet they were still prosecuted. When you have no fundamental standards, then you are violating the rights of citizens who are subject to police authority.”

Pettit cited other examples of problems the current laws present to city residents. These included the need to travel out to Baltimore County for a State Police interview, when most city residents rely on limited public transportation; and a requirement to qualify at a live-fire range, when such facilities don’t exist in Baltimore City.

“In my opinion, when you look at these progressive laws on the books and consider their application, you have to ask: ‘Are these laws meant to protect the public or to take firearms out of a certain racial makeup of the community? Are they designed to disenfranchise a segment from their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment?’

“I believe these restrictions are unconstitutional and are particularly aimed at African-Americans, at the economically disadvantaged, and at people of color.

“I speak with people every day, and once they understand the issue – that criminals are always going to get guns and they are not going to go through the legal process to obtain their weapons – then they understand the imperative for protecting their loved ones. The challenge is that Maryland is one of the few states still in the dark ages.

“I do not believe I could sleep at night in Baltimore City, if I could not assure my safety and the safety of my family, because I own a weapon. I think a lot of other people feel the same way.”

(Lede photo: Alien Gear Holster – Wikimedia Commons)

Page 5 0f the 10 page Maryland State Police Concealed Carry Permit application. Race is one of the lines an applicant must enter on the application.

About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at the Washington Herald, and Voice of Baltimore, Tony's poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, SmartCEO, Magic Octopus Magazine, Destination Maryland, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. Contact the author.