March 12, 2013

Hearing on concealed-carry bill pits Maine sportsmen, ACLU

By Michael Shepherd
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — A Tuesday afternoon hearing on a bill to permanently redact identifying concealed-weapon permit information from the public record will pit Maine’s largest sportsman’s group against its most prominent civil liberties group.

click image to enlarge

Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, testifies Tuesday afternoon in support of a bill he is sponsoring that would shield data on concealed-weapon permit holders.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Suzanne Hiltz of Chelsea holds her son, Samson, 2, with a Ruger Single-Six .22 caliber revolver on her hip, while attending a rally in Wiscasset on Saturday protesting gun control legislation and supporting gun rights. At right is Hiltz's son Jonah, 7, holding a .22 caliber youth model rifle.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

David Trahan, executive director of the Maine Sportsman’s Alliance, said Monday he’ll be testifying in support of the bill, which Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, submitted on his group’s behalf.

Meanwhile, Rachel Healy, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said her group will testify against the bill.

The chief organizer of the hearing said she’s expecting a big crowd at the 1 p.m. hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee in its committee room on the State House's fourth floor.

Committee clerk Susan Pinette said three other committee rooms are reserved to handle overflow: two adjacent committee rooms on the fourth floor and the Taxation Committee's first-floor room.

Wilson's bill would permanently shield data on concealed-weapon permits – names, addresses and dates of birth – from public inspection. That data is confidential now because of an emergency law passed last month.

Trahan's group was perhaps most active in mobilizing the state's gun-rights supporters after a public-records request by the Bangor Daily News, seeking the names, addresses and dates of birth of concealed-weapon permit holders, was publicized.

National media – especially conservative outlets – picked up stories of the request and the newspaper was barraged with negative comments.

Activists said the request smacked of similarity to a December decision by The Journal News, a suburban New York City newspaper that published an interactive map of permit holders soon after the shooting that month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 students and educators. The newspaper's office is about 50 miles from the school.

The Bangor newspaper said it never intended to publish identifying information, but that was of little consolation to gun-rights activists and legislative Republicans. GOP leaders, including Gov. Paul LePage, condemned the newspaper's actions.

The Legislature then passed a LePage-backed emergency bill making identifying information on permits confidential until April. Only 11 legislators voted against it — all House Democrats or independent liberals, and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, sponsored the bill for the governor.

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