AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would have made it legal to carry a concealed handgun without a permit was defeated by a single vote Tuesday in the Maine House of Representatives.
The 74-73 vote in opposition to the bill came after about an hourlong floor debate on the issue.
Maine’s current law requires a government-issued permit to carry a concealed handgun. State law allows the open carrying of firearms without a permit.
The vote split largely along party lines with Republicans supporting the bill, authored by Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro. However, several Democrats also supported the measure. One Republican, Rep. Amy Volk of Scarborough, voted against the bill.
“I can walk up and down the streets of Portland with my 9 millimeter on my hip and nobody can say anything to me,” Libby said after the vote. “But as soon as I put my jacket on, on a rainy day like this, I am now a criminal.”
Libby said it made no sense to him and to others, who see the need for a permit to carry a concealed firearm as an infringement on their rights under both the state and federal constitutions.
The narrow defeat of the measure shows the public’s view on the topic is changing, Libby said. He noted that previous efforts in Maine to remove the permit requirement have been overwhelmingly rejected.
“There’s a gut check on this one when people first see it,” Libby said. “But when people first start to actually hear the debate and actually read it and think it over they see it.”
Libby said those who apply for concealed handgun permits are by-and-large law-abiding citizens and that criminals don’t apply to carry a handgun hidden. He also noted that the waiting times for state police to issue a concealed handgun permit could be as long as 180 days because of the volume of requests.
He said that was of little solace to a person seeking a permit for personal protection, such as a victim of domestic violence who’s seeking a permit for self-protection.
“This is not about increasing gun possession,” Libby said. “This is about common sense.”
He also said state police resources spent on reviewing applicants and issuing permits could be better used actually fighting crime.
But those on the other side of the issue said Maine wasn’t ready to let anybody carry a concealed firearm and the vetting of those who want to do so was a good thing for public safety.
Former Cumberland County Sheriff Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, said police officers supported the permitting law as another layer of protection.
He said some like to see the gun issues in “distinct and abject boxes” but the real issue for police were the people who were in the “gray area” between law-abiding citizens who apply for permits to carry and criminals who disregard the law completely.
“What I’ve learned in this gun debate is how easy it is to follow absolutes,” Dion said. “Good citizens — criminals. As if they are that distinct.”
Dion said some of those who would want to carry concealed weapons without a permit would do so to simply boost their egos.
“Those individuals do in fact apply for a concealed weapons permits. Those individuals see that weapon as an extension of their ego and desire it more than the common citizen does. Theirs is not a concern of self-defense. Theirs is a concern that keeps a good police officer awake at night.”
Dion said the current system was not perfect and “the evidence is overwhelming that we have great work ahead of us.”
He said his colleagues should think about the small percentage of individuals who were denied concealed weapons permits.
“Do we want to give them a green light to do what they have not been able to do until this point?” Dion said. “They do get that message and we are alerted to the fact that they want to carry a concealed weapon.”
Dion also spoke of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s views on gun control.
“Not the most liberal jurist by any means,” Dion said referring to the Supreme Court conservative, “he tells us in his writings and his decisions that though it is a right, it is malleable, it can be shaped, it can recognize the needs of public safety.”