More than half the Legislature has signed on to a bill that would allow the concealed carry of guns without a permit. These lawmakers should check with gun owners and law-enforcement officials.
A recent poll, conducted by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research on behalf of Everytown for Gun Safety and Maine Moms Demand Action, both of which support stricter gun laws, found that 84 percent of Maine voters — including nine out of 10 gun owners — believe that a permit should be required to carry a concealed weapon in public. An even higher percentage — 89 percent — favor keeping the current law in place.
We recognize that gun ownership is an emotional issue, but this is a modest and reasonable requirement in an imperfect system.
Maine law currently requires those who want to carry a concealed weapon to apply to their town or the Maine State Police, which issue about 9,000 permits a year. A lengthy questionnaire asks about past criminal convictions, protection orders, drug use and mental health. The applicant must also show knowledge of handgun safety.
LD 652, sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, would do away with the permit requirement. The bill has 96 co-sponsors and is scheduled for a public hearing Wednesday before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Similar bills have been rejected in the last two years.
Requiring a permit “serves to reduce, to some degree, the number of people with concealed weapons who shouldn’t have them,” said Bob Howe, a lobbyist for the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, which opposes Brakey’s bill. He put together a spreadsheet of the reasons police departments deny or suspend permits. The most frequent reason is pending charges or a conviction for domestic violence and/or violation of a protection order. The next most common reasons are OUI charges or convictions, followed by other motor vehicle offenses such as reckless driving. Having a criminal record and drug offenses are other common reasons for permit denials.
Howe acknowledges there are problems with the current system, such as delays in processing applications. But he rightly suggests fixing the system rather than throwing it out.
Only five states allow concealed carry without a permit, with Kansas changing its law just last week. Vermont was long the only state to not require a permit to carry a concealed gun. Vermont had the lowest gun murder rate in the country in 2010, according to FBI statistics. New Hampshire, Hawaii and North Dakota are the next lowest.
Maine, like Vermont, has a tradition of emphasizing gun safety. But it also has strong support for requiring permits for concealed carry, according to the statewide phone survey conducted in early March, which included 802 respondents. Yes, it was done on behalf of a group that supports restrictions on gun ownership, but the numbers are so lopsided they can’t be dismissed.
One question asked: “Currently, Maine law requires that gun owners get a permit in order to carry a concealed firearm. To get a permit, people must have a clean recent criminal record and complete a safety training course. Would you like to keep this law or overturn this law?”
Eighty-five percent said they strongly supported keeping the law, with another 4 percent somewhat in favor of keeping the law. Only 5 percent said they strongly believed the law should be overturned with another 3 percent somewhat in favor of ending the law.
Support was especially strong among gun owners, according to the poll results. Ninety-five percent of those with one gun in the house supported keeping the law; 91 percent of those with two to four guns supported the permit requirement, as did 88 percent of those with more than five guns.
A 2012 national poll by Ipsos Public Affairs had similar results. Seventy-five percent of those polled supported laws allowing law-abiding citizens to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. But, 62 percent opposed allowing law-abiding citizens to bring a firearm to church, a workplace or public establishment.
Maine’s permit system works, although it could be quicker, and it is strongly supported by the state’s residents and law enforcement officials. It should not be tossed aside.