PORTLAND – The Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee recently heard a number of bills that would weaken Maine’s concealed weapons permitting laws.

Two of the bills would do away with the need to obtain a permit before carrying a hidden, loaded gun in public.

Two of the bills would expand the places ordinary people could carry guns, including into state parks, bars, the location of labor disputes, and into State House buildings in Augusta.

One bill would force private business to let employees keep guns in their cars while at work. And one bill would consider doing away with the requirement that people who are issued concealed weapons permits be of “good moral character” in order to be able to enter into reciprocity agreements with a number of other states so that people from away could bring their hidden guns with them when they come to visit Maine.

Over and over, during both the public hearing and the workshop session, the committee referred to Second Amendment rights. Members were undaunted by rulings by both the Supreme Court and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that clearly and unequivocally state that the right to bear arms is not absolute.

It was pointed out to the committee that in the Supreme Court ruling District of Columbia v. Heller, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote “like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

The decision went on to give examples of constitutional gun regulations including “prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons.”

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has also ruled that a statute requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon did not violate an individual’s right because the statute was “a reasonable response to the justifiable public safety concern engendered by the carrying of concealed weapons.”

When debating allowing hidden, loaded guns into the State House, members of the committee talked about the “people’s house” and wondered why the public wasn’t allowed to protect themselves while visiting.

The mindset pervading the room was that a gun is the only way to ever be able to defend yourself. What’s that saying — when the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail?

Absent from the discussion was the fact that the overwhelming majority of people do not want more guns in public. Surveys show that most people would feel “less safe” if more people in their community began to carry guns.

When asked, surveys show more than 90 percent of the people said they did not want regular citizens to be able to bring their guns into bars and government buildings.

The committee is responding to the incessant drumbeat of a small, but extremely vocal, group of gun rights people, spurred on by the gun lobby, who are pushing for any gun, any place.

The majority of people in Maine do not own a gun. And out of a state population of 1.3 million, only around 20,000 people have concealed weapons permits. Yet most of these concealed weapons bills will move forward in some form.

I have a blog that highlights unintentional shootings. (OhhShoot.Blogspot.com) Many of the postings involve people who have concealed weapons permits.

Some of these headlines: Man visiting nursing home drops gun, doesn’t notice gun is gone; Father drops gun, shoots daughter in head; Shot fired in Walmart after man drops his concealed weapon; Man in line at McDonalds unintentionally shoots self in leg; Woman having dinner in restaurant shot in butt when another customer drops his gun.

The bills before the Public Safety Committee seek to push more guns into more places and will force the public to rely on the judgment of armed ordinary people to decide when and where they think it is OK to use a gun in public.

We should be making it harder to carry loaded, hidden guns in public, not easier.

 

– Special to The Press Herald