AUGUSTA, Maine — The state Senate on Friday shot down a Republican effort to make it legal to carry a concealed handgun without a permit in Maine.
The Senate voted 19-14, largely along party lines, to indefinitely postpone an amendment to a bill that creates a statewide database for concealed handgun permits and makes police chiefs, sheriffs and the Maine State Police responsible for doing all background checks on permits.
The measure, which passed the Senate 20-13, also on party lines with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed, allows police chiefs and county sheriffs to issue permits but strips that authority from local elected officials, including town boards of selectmen that previously could issue permits.
Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, offered the amendment that would have made it legal to carry a weapon concealed without a permit.
Lawmakers supporting the amendment, which also received the support of the National Rifle Association, said it was meant to protect and restore Second Amendment rights prescribed in both Maine and the U.S. constitutions.
“My interpretation of those constitutions is that we do guarantee people the right to carry,” Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, told his colleagues while urging them to vote against postponing the vote on Mason’s amendment.
Plummer said those who agreed with him in the Senate deserved a chance to have their votes counted.
But state Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the Senate’s assistant majority leader, said the amendment would “completely undermine the system of concealed weapons permits that we have currently here in the state.”
Haskell said that system, which requires that a permit applicant obtain handgun training and pass a criminal and mental health background check, “provides all the law enforcement and officials some confidence in the people who carry those concealed weapons permits.”
She said the permit system creates a confidential registry of permit holders that only law enforcement can access. She also said the amendment would move Maine closer to a “stand your ground” footing, citing laws in other states that have resulted in controversial legal battles such as the George Zimmerman case in Florida.
The House passed the bill Thursday. In that chamber, an attempt to amend it to expand the right to carry a concealed weapon without a permit failed due to a procedural flaw.
Some lawmakers opposed removing selectmen from the group of officials that could issue a handgun permit, saying it was an erosion of local control.
A study by the Maine State Police in December revealed that roughly 44 percent of municipalities were not conducting the required background checks.
State police Lt. Scott Ireland said the bill is a “step forward,” and that handing responsibility for background checks to the Department of Public Safety is the only way to ensure that all the relevant background checks are conducted.
“These are records that only law enforcement can obtain,” Ireland told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday. “They are checks that [selectmen] cannot do, as civilians.”
The bill must now return to the House for another round of voting.