June 25, 2018
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House relaxes gun laws at state parks

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Carrying a concealed weapon in your local bar,  your parked car at work or the halls of the State House should remain off limits, House members decided Tuesday while relaxing restrictions at state parks and historic sites.

While opponents of three proposals debated Tuesday in the House of Representatives said loosening concealed weapons rules would put more members of the general public at risk, proponents said restricting them would rob people of their constitutional right to bear arms as a matter of self-protection.

Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, sponsored a bill called “An Act to Allow Concealed Weapons in the State House.” Crafts withdrew his bill because he said he is satisfied with new security measures being put in place in the Capitol after an incident involving Rep. Frederick Wintle, R-Garland, who was arrested last month after he allegedly pointed a handgun at a man outside a coffee shop in Waterville.

“That just proved my point,” Crafts said, referencing Wintle after the debate on the House floor. “I told leadership that if I knew what would be going on around here for security that I’d consider pulling my bill. To me it’s just like a fishbowl [in the House chamber]. Someone could come through those doors and there’s no place to go.”

Wintle was sent to Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta for evaluation after his arrest last month on charges of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. An officer at Kennebec County Jail said Tuesday that at the request of Wintle’s lawyer, he could not release any information about Wintle’s whereabouts other than to say he is “still in custody.”

Lawmakers have added more than $500,000 to the two-year budget bill now being debated by the Legislature which would add officers to the State House security force and fund the use of metal detectors at entrances used by the public.

Crafts told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that he will bring forward a bill next year that would allow lawmakers and state employees to keep weapons in their vehicles outside the State House. However, that bill might face a daunting road to passage if the fate of a similar bill debated Tuesday is any indication.

LD 35, “An Act Relating to Concealed Firearms Locked in Vehicles,” would have made it illegal for employers to ban concealed weapons permit holders from keeping guns hidden in locked vehicles in the employers’ parking lots. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, said his intention was for people to be able to carry their weapon to and from work, minimizing the time they’re unarmed.

“We’re talking about law-abiding citizens,” Cebra told the Bangor Daily News after the debate. “Anyone who wants to conceal a weapon and do harm with it can just break the law. The law doesn’t keep people from breaking the law.”

But opponents of Cebra’s bill said they saw it as anti-business and as an infringement on constitutional private property rights. Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, said employers should be able to set whatever rules they want when it comes to their buildings and grounds.

“These are people whose responsibility it is to look out for the safety and security of their employees,” said Haskell. “If we pass this bill we deny them the right to put policies in place for them to protect their employees.”

But Cebra, one of the last people to speak on his bill, disagreed.

“How this would disrupt or hinder a business or threaten a business’s ability to provide a safe workplace simply is not obvious or explained,” said Cebra. “The vote against this pending motion mandates that those people would be defenseless even when they’re not at their workplace.”

The bill only addressed concealed weapons and would not have affected employers’ rights to ban from their property unloaded guns in vehicles, such as hunting rifles or shotguns hung on window racks.

Passage of Cebra’s bill failed by a 68-79 vote. Then Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, asked the House to consider the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee’s minority “ought not to pass” recommendation, which also failed, 69-77. That means Cebra’s bill could come back for debate this session if a member of the majority in the initial vote moves to re-introduce the bill.

Earlier Tuesday, the House passed LD 1347, “An Act Relating to Locations where Concealed Weapons May Be Carried,” passed by a vote of 88-59, but only after many of the provisions in the bill were stripped out. Among the abandoned items were allowing concealed weapons in motor vehicles or trailers, for security agents at labor disputes or in the Capitol area or in premises that serve alcohol.

LD 1347  faces further debate in the Senate.

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