August 12, 2013

Maine aims to address growing gun permit backlog

By Alanna Durkin / The Associated Press

AUGUSTA — In an attempt to clear out a backlog that has Maine residents waiting nearly five months to receive concealed weapons permits, lawmakers say they'll meet this fall to discuss ways to reduce it, including possibly extending the length of time the permit is valid.

Under the law, Maine residents of more than five years must receive a response to their permit application within 30 days. But a recent dramatic uptick in permit applications and limited resources have made that impossible, Lt. Scott Ireland of the Maine State Police said.

"Everyone is feeling the strain of the burden," he said.

The Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee plans to meet as early as next month to begin discussing, among other things, proposals for how to make the state's permitting process more efficient and reduce the backlog, said Republican Rep. Ricky Long of Sherman, ranking minority member of the committee.

Long said one idea that has been floated is extending the length of the permit to four or five years, instead of three years, so fewer permit holders are renewing at the same time.

More than 4,500 applications await processing at any time and about 75 to 150 new applications come in every day, Ireland said. The department has only one full-time staffer dealing with permits and three others who help with parts of the process.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, and others attribute the rise in permit applications to proposed local and federal gun-control measures following the school shooting in Connecticut in December that left 26 people dead, including 20 children.

Several bills were proposed in Maine, Schwartz said.

"Obviously (gun owners) are concerned about it and that's why we're getting a lot of people" applying, he said.

The state handles permits for all nonresidents and about 360 municipalities, while several cities and towns do their own permitting.

Democratic Rep. Mark Dion of Portland, the committee's chairman, said the committee will examine other issues related to gun permits, like creating a uniform concealed carry permit identification card, which doesn't currently exist.

State police are working on a report on the state's concealed weapon permit process and will present it to the legislative committee by January. 

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