Gov. Paul LePage called on Mainers to help law enforcement rid the state of drug traffickers Wednesday, at one point citing a new law that allows residents to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.
“I tell ya, everybody in Maine, we have constitutional carry,” he said. “Load up and get rid of the drug dealers. Because, folks, they’re killing our kids.”
LePage was immediately asked by a reporter if he was advocating vigilante justice. The governor said he wasn’t.
His reference to the concealed handgun law came amid several statements in which he discussed reinstituting the death penalty, changing Maine law to allow drug dealers to be charged with homicide if they can be linked to an overdose death, and getting tough on doctors who overprescribe opioid medications – a major factor in the current heroin epidemic.
“I’d like to make it so tough that they don’t want to come to Maine,” said LePage, referring to drug dealers, adding that Mainers should unite to provide law enforcement with information on illicit drug operations.
The governor’s comments came during a brief sidewalk interview with reporters in Lewiston that was live-streamed over the Internet.
He fielded a number of questions, including whether he was serious about comments he made Tuesday on a Bangor radio station that Maine should “bring the guillotine back” to deal with convicted drug dealers. LePage laughed after he made the comment.
LePage’s offhand remarks about the various methods of executing drug dealers have come amid his unmistakably tough statements about eradicating drug trafficking in Maine.
On Wednesday it was not immediately apparent if LePage was encouraging vigilantism, because his concealed handgun comment was embedded in an impassioned detailing of the drug epidemic’s devastating toll on the state and its citizens.
Immediately after reminding Mainers of the constitutional carry law, he issued a warning about the dangers of addiction.
“Tomorrow it might be one of your friends, one of your relatives,” he said. “It could be you, unknowingly. Who knows. Once they start addicting people, who knows what happens.”
In addition to his guillotine remark, he said this month that he “would inject the traffickers with their own medicine, because they are killing our people.”
On Wednesday he said the state should reinstitute the death penalty, which was abolished in 1887, as the penalty for drug dealing. LePage said he didn’t plan to propose such legislation this year.
“I don’t care which way you do it,” he said. “I’m sick and tired … I get depressed seeing five people a week are dying and three babies a day are born addicted and affected by drugs.”
He later added, “If we can trace (an overdose death) and the drugs to a dealer, I’d like to make it a homicide.”
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, an opponent of the concealed carry law and a member of the drug task force formed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment on the governor’s remarks, according to a city of Portland spokeswoman.
Robert M. Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police and a former South Portland police chief, said he didn’t believe that the governor supported vigilantism.
“I know what he said, but I don’t think he’s really advocating for vigilantism,” he said. “A lot of times people say things that they don’t really mean.”
House Democratic leader Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan said the remark was inappropriate and unlikely to assist efforts in the drug crisis.
“Yesterday it was public beheadings, today it’s vigilante justice,” McCabe said. “I think it’s time to step back and start talking about ways that we’re going to deal with this crisis instead of making these types of comments.”