PORTLAND — More than a half-dozen chiefs of police from southern Maine called on lawmakers to defeat a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

The bill is “a misguided piece of legislation” that’s opposed by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, Michael Sauschuck, Portland’s police chief, said Tuesday.

Sauschuck and the other chiefs said that removing the requirement for a permit would put the public and their officers at risk.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, would no longer require gun owners to get a permit if they plan to carry their weapon in a concealed manner, whether that means under a coat or in a glove compartment in a car.

Libby said the permit process – which includes criminal and mental health background checks and completion of a gun safety course – doesn’t make sense when Maine allows gun owners to carry their weapons openly.

“You can walk down the street with a gun because we have open carry (laws), but as soon as you put a jacket on, you’re breaking the law,” Libby said.

Repealing the permit requirement, he said, would free up police resources that are currently occupied by doing the research necessary for issuing permits and would also allow gun owners to start carrying their weapons sooner. Libby said four other states currently allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

The bill is before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. The initial vote was a 7-6 recommendation that it ought not to pass, but Libby said the legislation has not been reported out and could be voted on again.

Sauschuck said removing the permitting process would make it harder for police to control the spread of guns in a community. He said the process allows police to consider a person’s moral character in deciding whether to issue a permit.

That, he said, gave him the leeway to deny a permit to what he called “an outlaw motorcycle gang” member who otherwise could have carried a concealed weapon because he had no criminal record or mental health commitments.

Edward Googins, the police chief of South Portland, said issuing a permit is a duty that he believes is worth taking seriously.

“I don’t take this lightly,” he said. “When I deny (a permit), I tell people why and they eventually understand it. They may not like it, but they understand it.”

Googins rejects arguments that more armed citizens will make the streets safer and said his decision to deny a permit has been challenged only once. That challenge is currently in court, Googins said.

Sauschuck said he’s concerned because the Legislature seems more concerned with expanding the rights of gun owners than in enacting what he said were “reasonable” curbs on gun ownership.

He said surveys show that 90 percent of Mainers support expanding background checks on gun sales to more transactions, such as sales at gun shows, but the Legislature doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

emurphy@pressherald.com