The Maryland HQL – How I obtained mine and details on what to expect

cat jumping through hoops

First off, I want to say that in addition to being a former US Marine, I’m a huge fan of the US constitution, and particularly fond of the 2nd amendment.  This article is all about the Maryland HQL(and how to get it), but I just couldn’t help myself, and had to include my thoughts on the 2nd amendment, “gun control” laws, and the fact that you actually need to possess a license to purchase a handgun in the state of Maryland.  In case you’re not interested in reading my thoughts(no offense taken), and simply want to learn about the process by which to obtain your Maryland HQL (Handgun Qualification License), I’ve tucked my rant away at the bottom of this page.

What is the Maryland HQL?

In the state of Maryland, the rule used to be if you wanted to purchase a handgun, you had to fill out a few papers, and wait (7) days for your identity to be cleared.  In the mid 90’s, the NRA pushed to have the waiting period replaced by an instant background check known as the National Instant Check System (NICS).  The anti-gun, anti-constitution politicians got a hold of this, and as a result, not only do we have the NICS *and* a 7 day waiting period, but as of October 1, 2013, you need a license to purchase a handgun.  You do not need this license to continue to own whatever you owned prior to October 1, 2013.   Yep, thanks in large part to the efforts of your good buddy, former Maryland Governor, former Baltimore City Mayor, Former Democratic Presidential candidate,  Martin O’Malley(did I miss anything?).  As of October 1, 2013, to purchase a handgun in the state of Maryland, you need to have a license called the Handgun Qualification License, or HQL for short.  Now to be fair, before you get your pitch forks and light your torches, I don’t disagree completely with this new law – only mostly.  At the end of this post, for those interested, I’ll make a strong case for what is possibly the only common-sense portion of this new law.  I can promise you that the case I make for the law was never considered a “plus” by the politicians, rather it’s a mere positive side effect,  of this completely ridiculous waste of legislature – not to mention our tax dollars which pay the salaries of these morons.

How do I get a Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL)?

Before I describe the exact process for which you use to apply for your HQL, I want to point out that there are some folks whom are exempt from needing the HQL.  Below is a brief excerpt from the Maryland State Police website, which outlines a list of folks whom do not need an HQL in order to purchase a handgun.

Exceptions to possession of the HQL License

  1. A Licensed Firearms Manufacturer.
  2. Active law enforcement officer or a person retired in good standing from a law enforcement agency of the United States (Federal Law Enforcement), the State, or a local law enforcement agency of the State.
  3. Active or retired member of the United States Armed Forces or National Guard and possesses a valid military identification card.
  4. A person purchasing, renting or receiving an antique, curio or relic as defined in federal law.
  5. Maryland licensed firearms dealers. (Sole Proprietors)

Now that we’ve listed the exceptions to possession of the HQL, there is another list of exemptions, but these folks still need to possess an HQL, they just don’t need the (4) hour training class.

Required to have the HQL, but exempt from the training component

  1. Someone who completed a firearms safety training course approved by the Secretary of the Department of Maryland State Police.
  2. Has completed a course of instruction in the competency and safety of firearms as prescribed under Natural Resources Article, §10-301.1, Annotated Code of Maryland. Application for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Hunter Safety Course Certificate can be obtained from here and may be used in lieu of Qualified Handgun Instruction.
  3. Is currently a qualified handgun instructor.
  4. Is an honorably discharged member of the armed forces of the United States or National Guard.
  5. Is an employee of an armored car company who has a handgun permit issued by MSP.
  6. Lawfully owns a regulated firearm, you do not have to complete the training to apply for the Handgun Qualification License.

I am covered under exception #4 in the above list, but I didn’t know that at first, and had already paid for my class.  I figured, if I paid for it, I may as well go.

For everyone else, you’ll need a Maryland HQL, and getting it is not hard, provided that you do not have a criminal or mental background.  I say that it’s not hard, because it isn’t, it just takes time and money.  How much time and money?  A minimum of 30 days and about $200 give or take respectively.  Like every law and rule, there are exceptions to this law, and I’ll go over them in a bit, but for now, I want to focus on what 95% of Marylanders will need to go through on their quest for this license to shoot.  You can visit the Maryland State Police website and read about there HQL requirements here if you like, but you might just take my word for it, that their site is really convoluted and confusing – very hard to understand.  Lucky for you, I’m going to outline the requirements for the Maryland HQL quite simply:

  1. Complete (4) hours of handgun training (I’ll go into detail in a bit)
  2. Complete “livescan” fingerprints
  3. Complete Maryland State Police Handgun Qualification License Application

Simple right? I’m going to break this down into detail for you so that you fully understand what is required.

Step 1 of 3:  (4) hours of  training – $100

There are a few ways you can go about this.  For most folks, by far, the easiest is to attend a class specifically tailored toward the HQL.  I live in Bel Air, MD, and the closest firearms dealer which offered a class happened to be Horst & McCann on Fountain Green Rd.  This is a small gun dealer but they have an indoor shooting range which is required, because during the class, you will be firing a weapon.  The class was taught by the owner, Mike Horst, and he was very friendly and laid back.  Mike had a few pistols with him for the class – a Beretta Model 92(9mm), Colt 1911(45 ACP), Glock 17(9 mm) and a revolver by Smith & Wesson which was chambered as 38 special.  Mike talked about the parts of a pistol, and then covered basic safety principles such as muzzle awareness.  After that, we went over some local laws, including how to transport the weapon legally and safely.  The final part of the class involved a live-fire exercise in which we fired at paper targets.  It was a pleasant experience overall, and I will say again that Mike Horst makes for great company.  The cost of this class was $100, and included everything, so all I had to do was show up.

Step 2 of 3:  Livescan Fingerprints $54.50

There are a number of places in which provide this service and nearly all of them charge the exact same price.  The procedure takes about 5 minutes and is very easy.  Basically, the Livescan operator records your fingerprints electronically through a specialized scanner.  After your fingerprints are recorded, they are electronically transmitted for several types of background checks including the Maryland Criminal Record Check and FBI National Criminal Record Check, after which you receive a printout with a bunch of numbers which will make no practical sense to you, but you need one of these numbers (the PCN, see a copy of mine here) for your HQL application that we will talk about in a bit, so don’t misplace that paper!  You can see the full list of Livescan providers in Maryland here.

 Once you complete your fingerprinting, you will receive a letter in the mail, of which at first glance, makes you look like a not-that-great person.  That’s because it’s from the Department of Corrections!  So, if your husband, wife, or children get the mail that day, be prepared to answer some questions! Inside is actually just a letter which (hopefully) says that you don’t have a criminal record – at least mine did. Here’s a screenshot of my phone the day that letter arrived. This is the actual text message from my wife whom was apparently the mail-checker that day.

Step 3 of 3:  Application for Maryland HQL – $50.00

Once you’ve finished your training course, had your fingerprints taken, paid a bunch of money and run through numerous security checks, now you’ve been green-lighted…  You’ve almost earned the right to exercise your 2nd amendment right in Maryland!  It’s almost like being an American citizen, but don’t celebrate yet, because you aren’t finished with applications, nor are you finished paying fees.  Your final step toward obtaining your Maryland HQL is to actually apply for it.  The application -like most government regulations- is not easy to navigate.  It’s convoluted, confusing and highly irritating.  Lucky for you, the HQL application is done online, and *should* only take about 5 minutes.  I should note that if you take your training class at Horst & McCann, they will literally do the application for you, and I can’t recommend this approach enough.

 When you complete your (4) hour training class, you’ll receive a paper signed by the instructor.  Also, when you get your fingerprints done, you’ll receive a receipt.  I recommend (if you have the ability) scanning these documents.  The reason is because during the HQL application, you have the opportunity to “upload” supporting documentation to go along with the application.  I attached these documents, and while it may actually not help at all, I figured when it comes to Maryland, if there’s anything that can possibly delay getting your hands on a gun, it will – so I chose the “better safe than delayed” route and attached these two documents.

To complete the application, you have to be using an outdated version of Microsoft Internet Explorer.  I know, “why would they insist I transmit sensitive data through an antiquated interface with all sorts of security gaps?” – because it’s the government silly!  Seriously though, no other browser will do – not Chrome, not Firefox, not Opera, not Safari, not Microsoft Edge, not even Microsoft Internet Explorer version 9 – forget it.  To be perfectly clear, if you have a computer which is less than 8 years old(as of 2016), you can be all but certain that your software is too ‘new’ to properly interact with the Maryland State Polices’ online application.  The good news, is that you don’t have to buy an old computer from a pawn shop to fill out this application.  Newer versions of Internet Explorer have what’s called “compatibility mode” which allows them to “pretend” like they are an older version of the web browsing software.  Compatibility mode is exactly what I had to use on my home computer in order to complete the online application.  This is an excellent resource on how to activate compatibility mode.

Filling out this application is self-explanatory.  You should have answers to all the questions at this point in your HQL journey, so just fill it all out, and submit!  Now it’s time to wait.  Ah yes; there’s nothing better than being a legal citizen of the United States, and waiting to see if after $200 of fees and training costs, you might be approved to exercise your 2nd amendment birthright – I love Maryland.  Can you imagine if you had to pay to APPLY to exercise your 1st amendment right(you better know it’s free speech)?  What about your 6th amendment(fair trial)?  Can you imagine being charged $200 so that you could *maybe* be approved for a fair trial?  I digress.

How long does it take to be approved for a Maryland HQL?

maryland hql - my licenseThe Maryland State Police say that it can take up to 30 calendar days.  Mine took 24, and in the current political state, I would just figure on 30.  Marylanders are so scared of a “gun-grab”, that every time there’s talk of new gun-control legislation, they all flock to the nearest dealer to make a purchase – can you blame us?  None of us even know what might happen to the laws in the future, but we do know that the state of Maryland does not observe the US constitution in terms of guns, so whatever *might* be in the pipeline, causes us to take shelter and hope to be grandfathered in to what is current law.

I checked the Maryland State Police HQL website literally 3 times daily, waiting for my license status to go from “pending” to “active”.  Here is what I was looking at until the 24th faithful day when the word “pending” was changed to the word “active”.  WOOHOO!

My argument for the new law, and a rant about the 2nd amendment right in Maryland (or lack of)


My argument for the HQL law (a very limited argument)

Even though I was exempt from taking the training class for the HQL, I took it anyway because I had already paid and figured that I may as well be in it for the experience.  I quickly realized that I could have taught this class.  Mike Horst did a fantastic job with this class, but I’m a former US Marine, and not only that, but my job in the Marine Corps was 2111 “Small Arms Repair”.  Couple that with the fact that I shot “expert” on the Rifle and Pistol range each and every time, and you end up with a guy whom really doesn’t need to learn about “sight alignment”, “sight picture”, or “muzzle awareness”.  I was telling my wife about the process, and the class, and she said “that’s what I mean when I say “gun-control”.  I think every new gun owner should have to take a class about gun safety, and how to lock your guns up so your kids can’t get to them.  I think these people should have to learn the basics of how to safely own a gun before they are able to purchase one”.  That, folks, is brilliant, and I agree 100%.    If that’s what politicians meant when they say “gun-control”, even the NRA would be for it.  It’s not what they mean however.(more on that in a second)  What my wife said, really got me thinking, and I came to the conclusion that she’s completely right in her statement.  Every new gun owner should have to learn basic gun safety prior to their purchase.  That’s where I am for the new law.  My problem, is the fact that this notion was never part of the considerations of the new law.  This new law is designed to make it harder to get a handgun, and that’s horrible, because it only affects law-abiding citizens.  Baltimore City had 344 homicides in 2015 – 344 – and that doesn’t even account for “non-fatal shootings” which basically means that some dumbass doesn’t know how to shoot, and attempted to kill someone but the bullet missed it’s path and the recipient lived, thanks to our amazing hospital trauma teams.

There are the facts, now here is the supporting problem:  Criminals use weapons to break laws, whereas law-abiding citizens use weapons for recreation or to protect themselves.  This new law makes a law-abiding citizen jump through some expensive hoops just to *apply* for their 2nd amendment right.  It’s no lie that the “anti-gun” political movement is generally like-kind with the “we need to help the poor, helpless people of Baltimore”.  The fact of the matter, is that there are so many good, law-abiding citizens in the city of Baltimore, whom live in low-income, crime-ridden neighborhoods.  Doesn’t this new law force them to spend money which they don’t have?  How does a single mother of (4) children, living alone, with little or no income afford $200 just to see if she *qualifies* to purchase a firearm in which to protect her family from the drug thugs just outside her front door?  The answer is that she can’t, and I’d call that, at best, systemic racism.  Think about that for a second.  I mean really let that simmer a moment.  So, basically, as Americans, our only constitutional right which explicitly deals with defending and preserving our lives, is only available to those with enough money.  That’s disgusting to me,  but, as they say in politics, “we’re all equal, but some of us are equaller than others”.

I don’t think I have to elaborate any more for you to get the point.  The legislation is complete garbage, and although it has a positive side-effect, that’s about all it has going for it.  For all other intents and purposes, it’s very harmful to many people whom truly deserve the right to exercise their 2nd amendment right to protect themselves and their families.  It’s disgusting that politicians claim to fight for the rights and well-being of the poor communities of America and yet don’t actually fight(but continue to be elected).  These same politicians argue against the voter ID requirement.  Their argument is that folks from poor communities “simply cannot afford” the cost of a photo ID.  Well if that’s the case, if it’s really true that we should not require a photo ID for voting because poor people can’t afford the ID, then we should make the entire handgun application process free -that is, if we are really fighting for the rights and betterment of these people – no?

Not to mention – and this is a huge “not to mention” – why is it that I can walk into a Walmart and for less than $150, purchase a shotgun and box of shells, and in 20 minutes(provided my record is clean), walk out of there, armed and ready for whatever.    So why apply the rules to handguns only?  I can kill more people with a shotgun for sure, and the ammo is cheaper.  If the aim is to make sure any new gun owner knows the safety ins and outs of gun ownership, why not apply the rules to all firearms?  That’s not gun control, that’s bullshit.

My rant of the lack of constitution in the state of Maryland

I promise this is shorter.  It disgusts me that ANY state has different versions of the US constitution.  I think it was pretty clear when our founding fathers wrote the constitution.  It was written in English, and in plain ink.  *some* people say “the constitution is 200 years old, it is due for some changes.  Well, it has been changed – 27 times.  All you need is 2/3 majority in the House, 2/3 majority in the Senate, and 3/4 of the United States.  If you can’t meet those requirements to get it changed, then your cause must be unjust, or rather, unpopular.  The fact that we live as “United” states, but yet each state has a different plate of bullshit with which to serve you is nothing short of a disgrace.  I’m going to take only the 2nd amendment for example here.

 “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.  SHALL NOT F*@#*@#* BE INFRINGED.  So why, in the state of Maryland, has it been infringed?  I’m not saying that I disapprove of the NICS background check system, but that’s it and that’s all.  If I’m cleared electronically via the NICS, I should be able to purchase and walk out with as many firearms as I like from my local dealer.  The same goes for the coveted “wear and carry” permit.  In Maryland, you basically have to be a business owner, or have a police record showing threats on your life.  What the hell is that?  The State Police should ask me why I want to carry a firearm and my response need not be any other than “2nd amendment right under the US constitution”.  I should have my permit right then and there.  The 2nd amendment doesn’t apply in Maryland, and unless it has broken away from the continent called “North America”, I’m pretty sure it, and all of its residents should be endowed the rights of the US Constitution of which they were born into.



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Meet the Author

I'm a former US Marine, full-time father and husband, and part-time survivalist. I like old things, like music, furniture and time-tested survival technique, but there's always a place in my heart for new technology such as weapons and sleeping bag fill. I'm here to share my knowledge and experience, and I hope you'll share yours as well.