AUGUSTA, Maine — Just days after Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill into law making the information on concealed handgun carry permits confidential, a Legislative committee wrestled over whether the age to carry concealed should be increased from 18 to 21.
In a work session Monday, lawmakers on the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee consolidated several bills that address concealed handgun permits.
The committee split 7-6 on a bill that would raise the minimum age to carry but then said they would reconsider that vote later this week.
“I can be 18 years of age and I can walk down the street open carry with a firearm?” Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford asked. “But I can’t be 18 years of age and walk around with a concealed carry, which I had to take training course for?”
Dutremble said he would be voting against the bill but other lawmakers voted for increasing the age, including Rep. Alan Cassavant, D-Biddeford.
Cassavant, who taught high school for 35 years, supported the bill.
“While I was teaching, I was constantly reminded that if some kid did something stupid or foolish, his cognitive age wasn’t developed, so therefore, give him a break,” Cassavant said. “I just don’t think they are cognitive in a way that they are ready for a handgun whatsoever.”
Cassavant said he wasn’t even convinced 18-year-olds should be driving cars. The bill includes an exception for anybody who has served in or is serving in the military, and Cassavant said he was OK with that.
Others who supported the increase in the minimum age for a concealed handgun permit did so to make Maine’s law more in line with concealed handgun laws in other states. That would make it easier for those states to offer reciprocity to Maine permit holders.
The committee also set aside a bill that would have required a standardized training for concealed handgun permits. The law currently requires an applicant to show they’ve had some training, but that requirement is subjective depending on who is issuing the permit. Only about half of the 30,000 permits in Maine are issued by the State Police, the others are issued by local elected officials or chiefs of police.
The committee did vote to send a letter to the State Police asking them for guidance on the topic — as part of the law that sealed handgun permit data from the public that the State Police have been directed to report back to the Legislature in 2014.
That report would include some aggregate data on permit holders in Maine but it will also include recommendations for creating a uniformed permitting system statewide, including a standard permit, much like a drivers license.
Rep. Tim Marks, D-Pittston, a retired State Trooper, noted several times that much of the data lawmakers or even law enforcement may be looking for when it comes to concealed handgun permits just doesn’t exist because there is no central statewide database that includes all permit holders.
Marks also said that when you look at Maine’s jail population, the largest segment are those between the ages of 18 and 21. He said to purchase a firearm legally under federal law, a person needs to be 21.
Only ten other states set the age for a concealed handgun permit at 18, while 37 states set a minimum age of 21, according to Rep. Thomas Tyler, R-Windham.
Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said he didn’t disagree with Cassavant on the cognitive ability of teens and young adults. Still, Plummer said different individuals had different capacities and there was no test that could be applied to determine cognitive function.
“Unless we can come up with some test to test their cognitive level, I think I am still willing to accept the age of 18 as the age of adulthood,” Plummer said.
Later Plummer also said that there may be 18- to 21-year-olds who have legitimate reasons for wanting a concealed handgun permit, including somebody who was a domestic violence victim. “I don’t think I heard any exception for that,” Plummer said.
The committee is expected to continue debating and voting on the proposed changes on concealed carry, other gun rights and gun control bills later this week.
Other measures the committee worked on Monday include creating a penalty for possessing a revoked permit and waiving the permit fee for retired police officers.
Also on the horizon is a bill that could make moot any recent or proposed changes to Maine’s concealed handgun permit system.
LD 660, which is before the committee for a vote Thursday, eliminates the permit requirement entirely.
The committee’s Senate Chairman, Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said he fully expected that measure would go back to the full House of Representatives for a vote some time in May.