A bill allowing state residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday, making Maine the seventh state without such a requirement.

The measure eliminates the permit requirement for any state resident 21 years or older.

“I often get asked the question that by passing this bill will Maine become the new Wild West? Vermont has had this bill for 200 years and they are west of us. This has not been a problem for Vermont,” said state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, the principal sponsor of the bill. “You can open carry in Maine now. All this does is allow open carry gun owners to put a jacket on.”

Maine State Police said in April that 36,000 concealed handgun permits, including 12,000 for non-residents, had been issued by the state. The total number of permits is likely much higher because they are also issued by local police and there is no centralized registry.

The current system of permitting will remain in effect, but it will be optional for state residents. The law won’t take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns for the session.

A press release issued by the House Democratic office said there are several provisions in the bill that the public should be aware of.

“There are a lot of questions around this measure,” said Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, House chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, in her party’s statement.

The Democrats’ statement said the bill cannot go into effect until 90 days after the Legislature finally adjourns, which has yet to occur. The Legislature will return on July 16 to vote on whether to sustain vetoes by the governor on several bills.

“Until then, gun owners and other Mainers must follow the current laws around concealed carry,” Fowle said.

Fowle added that the public should know about two important provisions of the bill.

The minimum age for permitless carry under the new law will be 21. Permits, and background checks, will still be required for anyone age 18 to 20. But military personnel age 18 to 20, either active duty or honorably discharged veterans, will be exempt.

Also, anyone pulled over by a police officer is required to tell the officer if they have a concealed weapon. Eleven other states have adopted similar disclosure provisions.

Brakey said the duty-to-inform provision was a late addition to the bill, and it may have to be revised later because of some ambiguities.

For instance, the provision requires a driver to “immediately” inform an officer that they have a weapon in their vehicle. But some officers have questioned what immediate means, Brakey said.

“That needs to be better defined,” Brakey said. “Getting stopped by an officer is a stressful situation to begin with and if someone forgets to mention they have a weapon and they were not asked if they did … that concerns me.”

Brakey said the bill is a “great” piece of legislation that was supported by members of both parties.

“This is an important day for the Pine Tree State,” Erich Pratt, a spokesman for Gun Owners of America, said in a press release issued Wednesday. “Law-abiding citizens shouldn’t have to ask permission to exercise a Constitutionally protected right. We don’t require permission for preachers or journalists, and we shouldn’t do it for gun owners either.”

Gov. LePage signed the bill during an invitation only ceremony at the State House.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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