Police officials from throughout Cumberland County held a news conference in Portland on Wednesday to denounce as dangerous a bill that would allow people to carry a concealed gun without a permit.

“When we roll into a scene, we’re looking for weapons,” said Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, speaking on behalf of the city and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. He was flanked by chiefs and other police officials from around the county. “Common sense would say, why wouldn’t you have a permitting process before allowing someone to conceal a firearm in the community?”

Sauschuck pointed out that the law in Maine for almost 100 years has required people who want to carry a concealed firearm to get a special permit. Currently, the local police chief – or the sheriff or Maine State Police in towns without a police department – must approve a concealed weapons permit after making sure the person is not a felon, does not have a domestic violence conviction, has taken a gun safety course and is otherwise not a risk to carry a hidden gun.

Sauschuck turned down 13 requests for permits in 2012, 23 in 2013 and 11 in 2014. Some of those were convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence charges or people who had endangered children. One was a man who asked his young child to hide a loaded gun when police were at the door, Sauschuck said.

“I believe that had a positive impact on the safety of this community,” Sauschuck said of the permit denials. He said repealing the law would also send the wrong message to drug dealers, who might then legally carry a concealed weapon.

The state Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee was scheduled to hold a public hearing Wednesday afternoon on L.D. 652, an act to authorize carrying a concealed handgun without a permit. Carrying a gun openly does not require a permit.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn. Brakey expects to have members of law enforcement support the proposal at today’s public hearing.

“L.D. 652 is a modest proposal that does not change who may carry a handgun, where they may carry a handgun, or what kind of firearms may be carried. The only change this legislation proposes is how a handgun – and only a handgun – may be carried by law-abiding citizens who can already carry one today,” Brakey said in a statement. “We are simply allowing a legal gun owner to carry – while wearing a jacket – without jumping through time-consuming government hoops.”

Sauschuck said that explanation makes light of a serious public safety risk. “We’re talking about a deadly weapon,” he said. Maine is one of about 45 states that regulate carrying concealed firearms, he said.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, speaking for his agency and the Maine Sheriffs Association, said he had spoken with instructors for National Rifle Association gun safety courses who were amazed at how many people do not know how to safely handle and store a gun and don’t know where they are legally barred from carrying one, such as in a school.

Larry Gilbert, former mayor and police chief in Lewiston and a former U.S. Marshal, recounted an incident in Saco last week when former Biddeford mayor Joanne Twomey disrupted a town hall meeting being held by Gov. Paul LePage. Before being escorted out, Twomey tossed a jar of Vaseline onto the stage in LePage’s direction. Gilbert quoted LePage saying he did not mind someone exercising their right of free speech. ” ‘As long as they didn’t bring a gun, I’m happy,’ ” Gilbert quoted the governor as saying.

Gilbert cited a recent poll that showed a large majority of voters oppose repealing the concealed weapons permit requirement.

When responding to an incident, police are trained to identify whether any guns are present and must assume a person might be armed, the chiefs said. If the law is repealed, members of the public would have to adopt the same level of caution. The level of security now provided at courthouses and airports might spread to other places where the public gathers to ensure that people who should not have guns are not carrying them secretly, said South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins.

Citing poll statistics that he said support keeping the current process, Sauschuck said: “I would say 84 percent of folks don’t want to stand in a line in a grocery store concerned whether the person next to them is carrying a concealed weapon, or in the bank. … If the Maine Chiefs of Police Association opposes this bill and the Maine Sheriffs Association opposes this bill, people who deal with these issues on a daily basis, I think that’s very telling. I think we’re speaking on behalf of those 84 percent of residents that were surveyed who say they agree with us. I’m not sure who elected officials will be listening to if, in fact, they voted to get rid of this permitting process.”

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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Twitter: @Mainehenchman


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