By Michael Shepherd
State House Bureau
AUGUSTA — By a large majority, the House of Representatives voted Tuesday to shield personal data on concealed weapons permits in Maine.
An amended version of the bill, L.D. 345 – which makes the names, dates of birth and addresses on permits confidential – passed the House 106-40. Democrats, who hold the majority, split on the vote.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, was unveiled in February with little fanfare. But it gained momentum when grass-roots gun-rights advocates in Maine reacted strongly against a public records request by the Bangor Daily News that was announced on Valentine's Day.
"I think it sends a message that we, as a body, not as a party, in a bipartisan manner are going to stand behind not only the rights of gun owners, but the rights of victims currently and future victims," Wilson said after Tuesday's vote.
The newspaper's request for information on all permits was condemned by Republican lawmakers, including Gov. Paul LePage. The paper also was inundated with social-media comments and calls to its office. A public hearing on the bill in March was dominated by gun-rights advocates.
Some Democrats who voted against the proposal Tuesday said the reactions were hysterical. Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, called it "paranoia that has been fueled by the gun advocacy groups" to boost membership and sell guns.
"I'm not going to give in to the hysteria," said Rep. Matthew Moonen, D-Portland, who opposed the final vote.
Those sentiments seemed leveled directly at David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.
"We're organized, our membership is passionate and I think they're doing a great job," Trahan said. "When you're on the losing side and you don't get your way, it's easy to blame the messenger."
Days after the Bangor Daily News request, LePage and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, shepherded through emergency legislation to shield identifying permit data until the end of April. Trahan and his group largely mobilized support for the measure.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine mobilized against the legislation, joining media organizations such as the Maine Press Association, a newspaper advocacy group whose members include the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.
As amended by Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, Wilson's bill would permit the release of aggregate statistical data, such as the number of applications and permits issued, revoked or suspended. The gender, towns of residence and age ranges of permit holders would also be public.
Valentino's amendment won out in committee, with Republicans voting for it and Democrats splitting on it.
Some Democrats supported an amendment by Rep. Charles Priest, D-Brunswick, that would have kept the personal data public but limited requests by an individual for such information to one permit per day. Priest's amendment would also have allowed some permit holders to apply to shield all of their information from the public.
"This information has been a public record for more than 30 years with no documented incidents, and polls show that more Mainers favor keeping it that way," Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, said in a written statement. "Legislators should pass the minority compromise, which puts common-sense privacy protections in place without compromising democracy and public trust."
Before the vote on Wilson's bill with Valentino's amendment, Priest's proposal was soundly rejected, 111-35, on the floor.
The measure is scheduled for a Senate vote Wednesday, said Ericka Dodge, a spokeswoman for Senate Democrats.
Passage is expected in the Senate, which gave unanimous support in February to the emergency, temporary ban on releasing permit information.
If approved by the Senate, the measure will go into effect as soon as it is signed by the governor.
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:
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