AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House approved a bill Monday that supporters said affirms Second Amendment gun rights and brings equity to a concealed-carry law that passed last year.
Opponents argued the bill, which loosens firearms restrictions for state employees, is unnecessary and could have unintended consequences.
LD 1603 allows state employees to bring a gun to their workplace as long as they have a concealed weapons permit and keep the firearm locked in their vehicle and out of sight. It was modeled after a similar legislation that passed 73-71 last year that afforded the same right to private-sector employees.
Monday’s vote, 84-55, was not nearly as close and the debate on the floor also was decidedly less heated than the battle over LD 35 last year. Most Republicans voted in favor but a number of Democrats joined them.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
“All it does is reaffirm rights under the Second Amendment. This actually restricts it a little bit by saying you need a permit and saying you need to lock your car,” Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, said Monday. “I don’t give up constitutional rights just because I become a state employee.”
Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, said it has always been her understanding that the Constitution says “the right to bear arms shall never be questioned.”
Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, the House chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, said Maine laws place restrictions on who can get a concealed weapons permit, so in that sense safeguards exist.
But Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Democrat on the criminal justice committee, said the law does not take into consideration “a number of places where perhaps it might not be appropriate to leave a firearm,” including prisons. The thought, Haskell said, is that guns — even those locked in vehicles — might become available to those who shouldn’t have them.
Others bristled at that hypothetical situation.
“I’m trying hard to find the logic here. The logic seems to be that because our weapon could be stolen, that we should acquiesce to the thief rather than the citizen?” said Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington.
Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, also pointed out the bill “in no way allows guns to be carried inside.” Many state buildings, including courthouses and the State House, prohibit firearms.
During a public hearing in late January, a handful of people spoke in opposition to LD 1603, including Bill Harwood, representing Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.
“There is no compelling reason for these employees to have guns at work in their car,” he said.
Peter Gore, vice president of government relations for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, also opposed the bill on behalf of many employers he has spoken to since last year’s bill passed. Many, he said, feel less safe knowing there could be guns in their parking lots.
The bill passed along party lines in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, with five Democrats voting against it. In their minority report, Democrats indicated they not only hoped to kill the new bill but also overturn last year’s legislation granting rights to private-sector employees.
Also on Monday, the House rejected a bill that sought to prohibit Maine from granting a nonresident concealed weapons permit to anyone who has been denied a permit in another state with similar laws.
Maine State Police Lt. David Bowler testified during the public hearing on LD 1728 and said it would help prevent what he called “permit shopping.” He told the committee that Maine has plenty of safeguards to prevent questionable people from getting permits but “our concern is the one unqualified person that gets by us.”
The bill passed through the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, but House Chairman Gary Plummer said Monday he no longer thinks the law in necessary.
His House colleagues agreed.