AUGUSTA — Maine State Police issued more than 5,000 concealed weapon permits since last summer, successfully clearing a logjam in the application process that has plagued the state and created long waits for applicants.
“We’re very excited,” said Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland on Friday. “Based on the number of applications we received in 2013, that unit was just inundated.”
In a written statement issued Friday, Gov. Paul LePage said the Special Investigations Unit — which processes concealed weapons permits for residents of towns without a full-time police department and for out-of-state applicants — used cross training, new business practices and “a great deal of teamwork” to clear the backlog.
All told, the state issued more than 11,000 permits in 2013, a nearly 47 percent increase over the number issued in 2012.
“I want to thank the staff at the department for improving the permitting process for Maine citizens,” LePage wrote. “Maine has one of the highest rates of firearm ownership in the country as a state that is fiercely protective of our right to bear arms. However, we also have one of the lowest rates of gun violence. We are a safe state, and we plan to keep it that way.”
In August, state police Lt. Scott Ireland, who leads the group that processes the concealed weapon applications, said the state could not keep up with the demand for permits.
At that time, he said only one full-time employee was dedicated to processing applications, which were coming in at a rate of about 150 per day. The backlog at that point was at about 4,600.
The state does not have data reflecting the total number of permits issued in municipalities throughout Maine.
Efforts to reform the state’s concealed weapons permitting process are ongoing in the Legislature, where a subgroup of the Criminal Justice Committee is considering a bill that would make the state police the only issuing authority in the state.
During a recent meeting of that subcommittee, Ireland reported that 44 percent of issuing towns and cities he surveyed aren’t running mental health background checks of concealed carry applicants as required by Maine law.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.