AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday signed into law a bill to nix the concealed gun permit requirement in Maine.
The law, dubbed “constitutional carry” by supporters, won support from a broad bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the House and Senate. It will take effect 90 days after the current legislative session ends.
The bill is one of only a handful that LePage has signed or let pass into law without his signature after pledging in June to veto all bills passed by the Legislature in protest of its unwillingness to adopt his policy agenda.
“I am pleased the governor signed constitutional carry into law today,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn. “This legislation has been a goal for Maine supporters of the Second Amendment for nearly two decades, and it is wonderful to see this commonsense measure finally enshrined in state law.”
The law eliminates the concealed carry requirement for legal gun owners who are age 21 or older, and for all military servicemen or servicewomen over 18 years old. Nonmilitary people between the ages of 18 and 21 must still obtain a permit, which requires a background check and firearm safety training.
The law also creates a requirement that anyone carrying a concealed gun without a permit disclose that fact if they are stopped by police or other law enforcement officers.
People can still obtain permits in Maine for the purpose of carrying concealed guns in other states that recognize permits issued here.
No one knows exactly how many concealed carry permits are active in Maine. Maine State Police Lt. Scott Ireland said Wednesday that his agency oversees about 25,000 resident and nonresident permits.
In each community served by its own police department, those agencies issue permits independently. State police handle permits for everyone else.
Bangor alone has issued about 3,700 concealed carry permits, though some of those permit holders may have died or allowed their permits to lapse or expire, according to Bangor police Sgt. Tim Cotton. That’s enough for more than 10 percent of Bangor’s population.
These permits will not go away as a result of the new concealed carry law. State and municipal officials will keep providing permits to those who want them and will continue to hold the permits they have on record.
Cotton said he expects to see a small increase in the number of people carrying concealed firearms.
“We support the safe, logical, intelligent use of firearms,” Cotton said. He encouraged first-time or inexperienced gun owners to take a safety course before carrying a concealed handgun.
Van Raymond of Van Raymond Outfitters in Brewer agrees. Raymond demonstrated for reporters on Wednesday how to wear concealed holsters designed to be hidden in the back of pants, under a suit coat, in a front pocket or in a purse compartment. He said safety and gun knowledge would be important if more people look to carry a concealed weapon when a permit is no longer required.
Raymond said he’s had instances in which first-time gun buyers have pointed a weapon at him in order to “get a feel for it.” Inexperience like that can be dangerous, and anyone hoping to carry for the first time should take a safety course from a local instructor, shooting range or firearms dealer.
Cotton and Ireland said they aren’t too concerned that more Mainer’s will be carrying concealed weapons, as thousands have been doing so for many years.
“We are in a state with a lot of firearms, and we deal with them a lot as law enforcement officers,” Cotton said. He recommended that anyone carrying a concealed weapon notify an officer if they start an interaction, so the officer isn’t “surprised.”
“It’s what the people have been wanting, and the studies we’ve looked at [from other states with permitless carry] … we see very few problems,” Ireland said. “We’re anxious to see how it’s going to work out.”
The bill’s path to law featured heavy lobbying from third-party groups on both sides of the debate. The National Rifle Association urged its passage, while EveryTown for Gun Safety, a gun control organization associated with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, opposed the measure.
The bill also was opposed by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, Maine Sheriffs’ Association and individual police departments in several of Maine’s largest cities. The only law enforcement agency to publicly support the bill was the Maine State Police.