AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to allow Mainers to carry concealed handguns without a permit appears destined for Gov. Paul LePage’s desk after the House agreed Thursday to an amendment designed to win the governor’s support.
The latest version of the bill, approved by bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, would allow anyone older than 21, who isn’t prohibited from owning a firearm, to carry a hidden handgun. Members of the military would be afforded the same right as long as they are older than 18 years old.
The provision for servicemen and servicewomen was added by the Senate on Wednesday in an effort to appease LePage, who said he would not sign a bill that didn’t apply to all adults in the military. In a vote of 87-60 on Thursday, the House concurred with the Senate.
The bill, LD 652 — dubbed “constitutional carry” by its backers — has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since it was introduced by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, early this year.
Brakey and others have said Maine’s current permitting system for concealed carry — which requires a background test, a fee and a judgment of the applicant’s “good moral character” — is a needless burden on law-abiding Mainers.
“It’s a law that you can carry a gun now, openly [without a permit]. Why should covering that with a jacket make you criminal?” said Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, during Thursday’s debate in the House, echoing arguments made repeatedly by Brakey and other supporters.
But Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, said proponents’ arguments were a red herring.
“This proposal is not about the Second Amendment. It is not about the right to bear arms. It is not about protection,” she said. “It is about a disdain for regulation, and that is the genesis of this bill. It is from people who disdain government, who disdain any interference in their freedom, as they put it, to do what they like, even at the risk of people dying.”
Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, proposed a floor amendment Thursday to require that anyone who would carry a concealed weapon participate in safety training, but the amendment was defeated 63-83.
The bill was opposed by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, Maine Sheriffs Association and other law enforcement groups. The Maine State Police supported the measure, although it’s worth noting that the Maine State Police also is the only law enforcement agency under the purview of the governor, who supports the bill’s goal of permitless concealed carry.
The effort has been the subject of intense lobbying, with the National Rifle Association prodding lawmakers to support the bill, and a group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg buying advertisements to oppose it.
By Thursday, 16 Democrats — including majority floor leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan — joined every House Republican in supporting the bill. Four of the five unenrolled representatives also backed the bill.
Because the bill would cause a reduction in state revenue from the loss of concealed carry permitting fees, the bill has been sent to the Appropriations Committee, which will need to factor in its passage into the biennial budget.
Additional procedural votes remain in the Senate, but with support secured in both chambers, the bill is all but sure to end up on LePage’s desk.
If the governor signs the bill or allows it to pass into law without his signature, as expected, Maine would become the second state in New England to allow permitless carry. Vermont has never required a permit to carry a concealed gun.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.