Monday, March 10, 2014
By Tom Bell email@example.com
AUGUSTA – Gun rights activists showed up in force Thursday at the State House to support a bill that would overturn a 96-year-old Maine requirement for people to obtain a permit if they want to carry a concealed weapon.
Citing the "knee-jerk reaction" to tighten gun restrictions in the wake of the December shootings of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn., gun rights advocates said it's time to stand up for their constitutional rights.
"We need to push back," said Rep. Jethro Pease, R-Morrill, a member of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which held a public hearing Thursday on the bill, L.D. 660.
More than 40 people testified in favor of the bill. Nobody spoke against the measure, which would eliminate a legal requirement first passed by lawmakers in 1917.
Despite Thursday's lopsided turnout, the Democrat-controlled Legislature is unlikely to pass the measure. A similar bill failed to win approval two years ago when Republicans were in the majority.
The only criticism voiced Thursday came from a committee member, Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, who retired from the Maine State Police in 2011 after 25 years.
Marks said allowing concealed weapons without a permitting system would make the work of police officers more dangerous, especially during traffic stops. He said a motorist with a concealed weapon could easily ambush an officer.
"It's the split-second jump that can put you in danger," he said.
Bill Harwood, founder of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, said his group will submit written testimony opposing the legislation.
"This is not a time to weaken gun laws," he said in an interview, noting that the public is clamoring for tighter gun controls. "Anything we have in place that makes it harder for bad guys to get a gun is something we should hold onto."
Maine law currently allows people to carry a gun without a permit as long as the gun remains visible. To carry a weapon hidden from view, however, they need to pay $35 and apply for a concealed-weapon permit from local or state authorities.
Applicants must show they have "good moral character" and answer more than 30 questions, most of which relate to their adult and juvenile criminal history and whether they have a mental disorder or a drug habit.
Supporters of L.D. 660 say it's "logically inconsistent" that people in Maine may wear a gun openly, such as in a holster on their hip, but must obtain a permit to carry the weapon on the inside of a jacket.
"We are not talking about handing these guns to criminals. This is about how the guns are carried," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro.
Since 2003, four states -- Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Vermont -- have passed similar measures, known as "constitutional carry."
George Smith, the former longtime director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, told the committee that repealing the law requiring a permit would "build a lot of goodwill" with gun owners and could generate enough support among lawmakers to pass a separate gun control bill.
The gesture, Smith said, would allow gun owners to support background checks for private gun sales, with the exception of sales between family members. He also said gun owners probably would support a measure that allows police to remove guns from owners who have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital on an emergency basis, as long as there's a process for getting their guns back.
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