BREWER, Maine — Rockport resident Skip Small, who already owns a 10 mm Glock pistol, went into Van Raymond Outfitters on Wednesday to buy another handgun in anticipation of the new concealed carry law that takes effect Thursday in Maine.
“I wanted the smaller version of the gun I have,” Small said. “It’s smaller and easier to conceal.”
Small, who has a concealed handgun permit, purchased a Glock 43, a new 9 mm pistol with a six-round magazine.
“It’s nice to be able to have a gun for protection,” Small said while he shopped for a holster for his new firearm. “I think it’s a good thing, to some degree. You’re not going to stop someone from getting a gun in the United States.”
The new state law allows legal firearm owners to carry concealed handguns without a permit. It covers those 21 or older as well as active members of the military and veterans 18 and over. The new law also allows a person to possess a loaded pistol or revolver while in a motor vehicle, trailer or other vehicle being hauled by a motor vehicle.
The “constitutional carry” law, as some call it, is one of three new state laws pertaining to guns and knives that take effect Thursday. The other laws lift the ban on switchblades and similar automatic knives and allow hunters to use noise suppressors on their guns.
Before Thursday, anyone who wanted to carry a concealed handgun needed a police-issued permit, which required a background check; fingerprints; six pages of questions about the applicant’s criminal history, domestic violence investigations, drug use and mental health disorders; as well as proof that the applicant took a gun safety course and paid a $35 fee.
It is difficult to determine the number of concealed carry permits in the state, but Maine State Police oversee about 25,000 resident and nonresident permits, and Bangor has issued about 3,700, officials say.
Maine joins Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Kansas in allowing concealed handguns without a permit after previously requiring one. Vermont has never required a permit. New Hampshire’s Legislature passed a law similar to the one Maine enacted this year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Maggie Hassan.
Retired Old Town police officer Dusty Rhodes of Winterport, a former firearms instructor, said he’s worried about what the new law means for inexperienced handgun owners.
“I really wish they hadn’t removed the permit,” said Rhodes, who has held a concealed weapons permit for around four decades. “It required a background check, a mental health check, you had to show proficiency, you had to submit fingerprints. You had some count on who is carrying.
“My concern is some young fellow will accidentally shoot himself or will grab a gun, instead of a knife, and shoot someone else without really knowing what he is doing,” the former police officer said. “It’s just going to cause more problems. I hope I’m wrong. Only time will tell.”
Rick Lozier, who has worked at Van Raymond’s gun store for more than a decade, said he also has concerns about first-time handgun buyers not having the experience needed to handle a deadly weapon.
“This is their handgun training,” Lozier said, pointing at a basic firearms safety brochure that the new law requires he provide to all handgun buyers. “I’m a little disappointed.”
First-time owners should take a safety course from a local instructor, shooting range or firearms dealer, he said.
Second Amendment advocates including Jeff Zimba, a firearms policy consultant and gun safety instructor, say fears about the new law, which passed easily in Augusta with broad bipartisan support, are unfounded.
“People think all of a sudden it’s going to be the Wild, Wild West,” said Zimba, who testified before legislators in support of all three law changes and now handles gun and knife safety education for Maine Military Supply. “We’re finding just the opposite — people are signing up for safety courses. They want more education. They’re all saying doomsday, but we’re seeing just the opposite.”
The Holden gun and military supply shop opened an indoor shooting range last year and offers six classes, including a free firearms training course on Tuesdays that is open to the public and an interstate concealed carry class that offers a Utah nonresident firearm permit, which is accepted and recognized in 33 other states with concealed handgun laws.
Maine’s permit is accepted in eight other states, according to Maine.gov.
“We haven’t seen a decrease in our classes, we’re seeing an increase,” Maine Military Supply owner Frank Spizuoco said Tuesday. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see if that changes. Right now, more people are signing up.”
Mainers always have been allowed to openly carry a handgun, and those who prefer to continue getting concealed carry permits can do so.
Guns still are banned at courthouses, public schools, state parks, federal buildings, the State Capitol area in Augusta and on private property, including bars, that have “no firearms” signs posted. And it is still illegal to carry a handgun into a bar — permit or no permit — while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Anyone carrying a concealed handgun is required to immediately tell law enforcement about the firearm, if stopped or questioned, or face a civil fine of up to $100.
That is, unless you have a concealed handgun permit.
“If you do have a permit, you don’t have to tell them squat,” Lozier said.
Maine’s concealed carry permit law says permit holders must produce the permit only when asked by law enforcement.
Also, those who have a permit can carry concealed in Acadia National Park and state parks, and in employee vehicles on work premises where guns are prohibited as long as the vehicle is locked and the firearm is not visible.
“Every single person I’ve talked to has said they intend to keep [their concealed weapons permits], including me,” he said later. “I’ve had one for 30 years.”
The new law has spurred sales of smaller pistols, holsters and other concealing accessories, area shop owners say.
Old Town Trading Post owner Dave Hanson said Monday that gun sales have not increased but some concealing handgun accessories are flying off the shelves.
“We’ve taken on a different line of holsters that are made in Maine and we’ve sold a ton of them,” Hanson said.
The leather holsters are made by Cold Forge Gun Leather of Searsmont, owned and operated by Mike Johnson, who describes himself as a “holstersmith.”
“We did get an increase in business. It’s been helped by the law that is coming into effect and people taking advantage of their Second Amendment rights,” Johnson said Monday. “Gun sales have gone up and with that holster sales have gone up as well.”
Luke Chiavelli of Cool Hand Luke Firearms in Bucksport said Monday he has “sold a handful of carry guns in the last week or so to people who said they bought them [as a result of the law change]. They were all pretty experienced shooters. They were looking for smaller ones.”
There has been little fanfare surrounding the new laws that repeal a 1959 ban on switchblades, butterfly knives and other blades that open automatically, and that allow hunters to use silencers.
State Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, a carpenter, sponsored the bill, saying that certain knives used as tools should not be prohibited.
“It went into effect after ‘West Side Story’ came out and there were shows about [street] gangs having these hidden in their socks,” Zimba said of switchblades and butterfly knives. “It scared people. It’s an old blue law that they repealed.”
The sound suppressors now may be used while hunting with a permit from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which requires a background check and a $12 fee.
“They’re not quite as exciting as they are in Hollywood,” Zimba said of sound suppressors, which help to prevent hearing damage.
BDN writer Nick McCrea contributed to this story