Police: 44 percent of towns and cities surveyed aren’t checking mental health of concealed carry applicants

Posted Dec. 11, 2013, at 9:39 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 11, 2013, at 5:02 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Four in 10 municipalities in Maine that issue permits to carry a concealed handgun are not running the legally required mental health background checks, said a Maine State Police representative on Wednesday.

Lt. Scott Ireland told a subcommittee of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that a survey he conducted found about 44 percent of municipalities told state police they are not checking an applicant’s mental health history, and nearly 6 percent of police chiefs said the same.

Ireland said that only 60 of 150 police chiefs responded to the survey, as well as only 60 municipalities. In Maine, municipalities, local police chiefs or the state police can all be “issuing authorities” for concealed carry permits.

Ireland said he believes the statistics would not change significantly if more surveys had been returned, and he added that the question may be one reason so few were returned.

“I think a lot of people that maybe didn’t respond, they maybe read the questions and decided from there that they didn’t want to answer,” he told the subcommittee.

Ireland also added that state police already handle the concealed carry applications for more than 350 territories, towns and cities — the bulk of incorporated municipalities in the state. So 60 responses from municipalities that handle the process themselves is probably most of them, he said.

Ireland was reporting information requested of police in assessing LD 222, a bill submitted last session by Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, that would make the state police the only issuing authority in the state. He was also reporting back on LD 345, a bill by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, that made concealed carry information confidential. That bill was signed into law this year.

Lawmakers on the committee were visibly shaken by the report from Ireland. Wilson, a member of both the subcommittee and its parent board, said he was “shocked.”

Rep. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said that while the information was a surprise, he was less shocked than his colleagues.

“I suspect the selectmen, in a place like Morrill, Maine, know very well the good moral character, the mental health record of an applicant,” he said.

Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, a former sheriff of Cumberland County and House chairman of the committee, said that wasn’t comfort enough.

“I remain unsettled,” he said. “If there’s one policy issue there seems to be consensus on all sides of the gun policy debate, it’s that we haven’t done a good job on the mental health management piece.”

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said that while the statistic did “spike my blood pressure,” he wanted Mainers to know that another crucial mental health screening process — which takes place when someone buys a gun — is still running checks.

“If you’re prohibited, you can’t have a firearm to begin with,” he said. “There aren’t a bunch of people out there who are prohibited from owning firearms, who have concealed carry permits.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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