Maine legislators are debating a bill to authorize the carrying of concealed handguns without a permit. The legislation enjoys broad bipartisan support from our elected leaders. Bipartisan anything is a noteworthy development in these hyper-partisan times.
The bill’s sponsors are asking us to believe that if someone is already legally able to open carry a handgun, this legislation simply allows them to put on a jacket without becoming a criminal. The change also eliminates the need to demonstrate gun safety training, a provision supported by many gun owners. While the legislation is all likely to pass, there are many in our rural state who believe the proposal is irresponsible.
I believe Maine people, like folks in most of our country, have grown weary and afraid of gun violence. They are tired of being scared in this post-9/11 world. They are tired of working hard and not getting ahead. They are tired of hearing that others are taking advantage of a social safety net that they are supporting. They are afraid of living in a country that appears to be growing more dangerous by the day. I believe that hidden carry legislation of this kind contributes to that fear.
This is the third time in three years that the Legislature has addressed concealed carry. Both times before the legislation failed, once by one vote and the other after a failed procedural maneuver. I believe that people’s fears, real or imagined, seem to be driving this issue today. That fear has even divided our law enforcement community. The Maine State Police have endorsed the measure while local departments have lined up in opposition.
Maine has a long tradition of responsible gun laws. This measure, however, allows people to conceal a legally licensed weapon. The vast majority of them will go about their business in the usual manner with no one the wiser. My prayers are for those moments when someone takes out their fear, their rage or frustration on another person, perhaps even a local law enforcement officer, who was not aware of a firearm on the scene.
I am not opposed to gun rights, but I do believe there is a greater right — the right to live, the right to live without fear. It is too easy, in moments of fear and anger, to use a gun at hand in ways that cannot be taken back. It is too easy to shoot quickly and then to live for years with regret, guilt and grief.
At this summer’s General Convention of The Episcopal Church, Bishops United Against Gun Violence, Episcopal bishops from 60 dioceses will lead a peaceful procession through downtown Salt Lake City on a Sunday morning. The purpose is to lift up the memory of all those who have died from gun violence and to demonstrate our conviction that life and freedom from fear must be available to all. Permits for concealed weapons do not seem too high a price to pay.
The call of our Lord Jesus is not to confront violence with violence, but with love. Let us work together to diminish the climate of fear gripping our nation. Let us uphold the right of all to live in peace.
Stephen Lane is the bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Maine.