Permits no longer required for concealed carry in Maine

Last Thursday, a new gun law took effect in Maine that removed the permit requirement for concealed-carry. Under the former system, which had been in place for 90 years, concealed carry of a firearm was legal only with a police issued permit “which required a background check; fingerprints; six pages of questions about the applicant’s criminal history, domestic violence investigations, drug use and mental health disorders; as well as proof that the applicant took a gun safety course and paid a $35 fee,” according an October 14 article in The Bangor Daily News. The new legislation, which represents a major victory for Maine Republicans, allows any legal gun owner over the age of 21 or active military member over the age of 18 to conceal their gun without first obtaining a permit. Gun owners are still prohibited from carrying firearms into certain areas, including all schools, courthouses, government buildings, state parks, and the Capitol.

State Senator Eric Brakey of Auburn sponsored the bill, which passed in June and was signed into law by Governor Paul LePage. Along with other Maine Republicans, Brakey praised it as a step in the right direction for the state. In an October 15 Portland Press Herald article, Brakey said he feels that permits and other perceived safeguards are unnecessary when it comes to gun control, as criminals have no regard for them. Removing these barriers simply means that lawful citizens can protect themselves more easily, he said. In a press release, the National Rifle Association celebrated the efforts of Brakey and LePage, and said “the Maine legislature and governor stood strong for freedom.”

Despite conservatives lauding the law as a positive enlargement of individual rights, the topic remains contested among important Maine figures. One notable critic is Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, who wasted no time expressing his unease. Sauschuck called the law “misguided,” and said that he thinks it will make the jobs of law enforcement more difficult and more dangerous. “We continue to go the wrong way on gun legislation,” he said to the Portland Press Herald. Sauschuck expressed that he does not think that more guns are the answer to Maine’s problems, in opposition to Brakey and many other gun rights advocates who suggest that upright citizens need clear access to guns in order to protect themselves against criminals with guns.

In an October 15 editorial titled “Our Opinion,” the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal derided this “good guys and bad guys” line of thinking as “childish rhetoric” that treats life “as if [it] were just one big game of cops and robbers.” The Sentinel and Journal aligned themselves with Sauschuck, stating that “it is reasonable to conclude that where there are looser gun laws, there are more guns around.” However, it is important to note that looser gun laws do not necessarily correlate with more violent crime. According to the FBI, Maine had the second lowest crime rate in the country in 2013, coming in behind only Vermont, which has historically had lax gun laws and has long allowed its citizens the right to concealed carry without a permit. However, as highlighted in the editorial, Maine’s status as a low-crime state does not make it immune to the risk of guns being used for suicides and accidental shootings, which the writers cite as major concerns.

Many other Mainers fear the effects, among them some proud gun owners. Dusty Rhodes, a retired police office and former firearms instructor who held a permit for four decades, expressed his discontent to the Bangor Daily News. Rhodes was upset that people can now opt out of the permit, because “it required a background check, a mental health check, you had to show proficiency, you had to submit fingerprints. You had some count of who was carrying.” The issue of proficiency was echoed by Rick Lozier, a Maine resident who has worked at a gun store for years. Lozier said that while new owners should really take a firearms safety course from a professional, he is only required to provide first-time customers with a safety brochure. “I’m disappointed,” he said to the Bangor Daily News. Rhodes added, “My concern is some young fellow will accidentally shoot himself or will grab a gun, instead of a knife, and shoot someone else without really knowing what he is doing.” These fears, shared by a large body of concerned citizens, are considered by some to be unfounded because Maine had already allowed citizens open carry. To them, it does not matter whether or not the gun is seen, or whether or not someone has a jacket on over their holster.

The novelty of the legislation means that its effects are hard to judge. However, several Maine gun shop owners have already seen a change in sales. “The new law has spurred sales of smaller pistols, holsters and other concealing accessories,” according to The Bangor Daily News. The article also reported multiple instances of long-time gun owners setting out to buy smaller, more easily concealed guns as a result of the law.

Despite the changes in law, citizens can continue to apply for concealed carry permits, and there remain incentives for them to do so. For one, Maine permits are recognized as valid in eight other states, meaning that permit holders do not necessarily give up their right to concealed carry when they leave Maine. In addition, if a citizen with a concealed firearm is stopped or questioned by law enforcement but has a concealed carry permit, they do not have to notify the officer of their weapon. However, if they do not have a permit, they must immediately tell law enforcement or else be subject to a fine.

It is important to note that, despite the publicity surrounding the new legislation, several other states have had similar laws in place for years. “Maine is not at the forefront of this issue,” said Goldfarb Family Distinguished Professor of American Government Cal Mackenzie. Mackenzie went on to highlight that some states allow individuals to bring guns onto academic campuses and into bars, both mandated as gun-free areas in Maine.

The issue of gun control is proving to be an important one in upcoming political races, including the 2016 Presidential race. Democrats have not meaningfully talked about gun control since the 1990’s, when it fell out of favor as a talking point as it was considered a “losing position.” When asked why he thought presidential candidates have been so willing to talk about gun control recently, Mackenzie cited “public anger.” The onslaught of school shootings in the past few years, including the shooting at an Oregon community college that took nine lives earlier this month, has brought the issue to the forefront of public consciousness. Democrats are responding to this and “thinking it’s a wedge issue against Republicans,” Mackenzie said.

 

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