This week, Maine joined the small group of states that allow any resident age 21 or older to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.

L.D. 652 encountered some bumps along the road to enactment, including a funding challenge and the Criminal Justice Committee’s rejection of the proposal. But in the end, the sheer size and strength of support for the measure – over half the members of the Legislature co-sponsored L.D. 652 – carried the day.

We’ve voiced our concerns about eliminating mandatory police oversight of who can carry a hidden handgun. And we’re not alone. In fact, 89 percent of Maine voters back mandatory permits for concealed carry – a statistic that’s fueled talk of a referendum to overturn permitless concealed carry.

But talk is one thing; action is another. And anyone considering organizing a people’s veto should be prepared to create and launch unrelenting signature-gathering and get-out-the-vote efforts. The National Rifle Association and the Maine gun lobby have certainly demonstrated their skill at wielding the levers of power statewide.

Under L.D. 652, the only people barred from carrying a concealed handgun without a permit are those who can’t own guns because of a criminal record or a history of mental illness. Maine, however, doesn’t have safeguards that would keep the wrong people from buying guns in the first place.

Because of the so-called “gun show loophole” in Maine law, only licensed firearms dealers have to check to see whether a prospective buyer is barred from owning a weapon – so in an estimated 40 percent of gun sales, no background check is required.

What’s more, the new law makes optional the current concealed-carry permitting process, in which applicants must prove to state or local police that they’ve undergone firearm safety training and pass a “good moral character” screening and background check. If a felon or someone involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility wants to carry a hidden handgun, how will the state stop them now?

Legislators in Oregon – like Maine, a rural state with a strong gun culture – tightened firearms controls there this session, expanding that state’s background check law to include private sales.

So while any effort to overturn L.D. 652 will face staunch opposition in Maine, it may not be impossible. But it will take a lot of work and commitment.

The surveys indicating overwhelming support for gun control in Maine won’t translate into success at the ballot box until and unless the people who share their feelings with pollsters are moved to put those words into action at their local polling place.

Gun rights advocates have shown they can turn out voters on their side; gun control supporters in Maine have yet to demonstrate they can do the same.


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