Following several years of stalled legislation, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has signed into law a measure permitting bowhunters in western Maryland counties to carry handguns for personal protection while hunting.
Sponsored by state Senator George Edwards (R-Garrett, Allegany and Washington Counties), SB 231 permits bowhunters who are otherwise authorized to carry a handgun to carry for protection while hunting in Deer Management Region A. While afield, bowhunters are vulnerable to outdoor crime and dangerous wildlife, and should be allowed to carry a firearm for protection. Deer Management Region A sustains the state's highest concentration of black bears.
SB 231 passed in the state Senate by a 43 to 2 vote in February and subsequently breezed through the House 120 to 9. An identical bill introduced in the 2013 session failed to pass. In the previous two sessions, measures to permit handguns for authorized bowhunters statewide failed to gain traction.
Gov. O'Malley signed the bill into law May 15. It will be effective for the upcoming 2014 archery-hunting seasons.
While state-by-state regulations vary, most simply permit those with valid state concealed handgun permits to carry while bowhunting. Still, at least 15 states continue to prohibit bowhunters from carrying a firearm for personal protection.
2013 marked the first hunting season in which Vermont hunting archers were permitted to legally carry a handgun while afield. House Bill 129, an NRA-supported bill introduced by state Representative Patrick Brennan (R-Chittenden-9-2), allowed bowhunters and dog trainers to carry a handgun for self-defense while engaged in those outdoor activities.
Because sportsmen of various pursuits are often in remote rural areas, lawmakers in a growing number of states understand they are left vulnerable by the prohibition on carrying a handgun for self-defense. With outdoor crime being a true threat, as well as the possibility of an encounter with dangerous wildlife, sportsmen should not be left defenseless.
In 2011, Alabama bowhunters were permitted for the first time to carry handguns for personal protection during archery-only seasons. That same year, North Carolina regulations allowed archery hunters "to carry, but not hunt with, a concealed handgun with valid concealed carry permit or an open carry handgun, as long as it is not in conflict with any other regulations in that jurisdiction."
In addition, the 2011 archery season marked the first time bowhunters in Missouri were allowed to carry handguns for personal protection. In 2010, Tennessee and Kentucky each liberalized handgun-carry regulations for archery hunters.