March 12, 2013

Many expected to testify on Maine gun-permit data bill

Extra rooms are reserved for the 1 p.m. hearing on the bill to ensure permit-holders' confidentiality.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA – The concealed-weapons permit data bill that sparked the year's most visceral public policy debate is up for its public hearing Tuesday, and a big crowd is expected.

In this April 2010 file photo, a pro-gun demonstrator who did not want to be identified stands in a park at Back Cove in Portland during a gathering to publicize the right to carry unconcealed weapons. The concealed-weapons permit data bill that sparked the year's most visceral public policy debate is up for its public hearing Tuesday, and a big crowd is expected.

Staff File Photo

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David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, said he expects 150 to 200 people to testify on the bill L.D. 345 before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

"I tried to encourage the committee through leadership to move it to another venue so we could fit more people," said Trahan, who said he will testify in support of the bill, which Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, submitted on the group's behalf.

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-weapons 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 the emergency bill making identifying information on permits confidential until April. Only 11 legislators voted against it -- all House Democrats or independent liberals.

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, was the chief sponsor of LePage's emergency measure, which the governor signed that day.

Senate Democrats' spokeswoman Ericka Dodge said her caucus doesn't have a unified position on the bill.

Republican support isn't in doubt: Wilson's 57 Republican colleagues in the House co-sponsored the bill.

"Republicans are 100 percent united on this issue," said House Republican spokesman David Sorensen.

 

Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

 

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