© 2024 Maine Public | Registered 501(c)(3) EIN: 22-3171529
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Scroll down to see all available streams.

Bill to Scrap Concealed Weapons Permits Evokes Strong Feelings

Tom Porter
Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck speaks out against a bill that would roll back concealed weapons regulations, as Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce and Family Crisis Services Executive Director Lois Reckitt look on.

AUGUSTA, Maine - A proposal to roll back "concealed carry" regulations in Maine was up for debate at the State House today, as some law enforcement officials joined with gun control advocates to oppose a measure strongly supported by gun rights activists.

Police chiefs - serving and former - joined county sheriffs and other law enforcement representatives to begin the day with a news conference at Portland police headquarters. The aim: to make clear their opposition to LD 652, a bill that would allow the carrying of concealed handguns without a permit.

"This is a poor piece of public policy," said Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck. Speaking on behalf of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, Sauschuck said the proposal would make both police officers and residents less safe.

Sauschuck says under current law, before a concealed carry permit is issued an applicant must undergo a thorough background check, including details concerning mental health and criminal history. Between 2012 and 2014, he says 47 permit applications were denied by Portland Police.

"Now, these are denials for criminal threatening, assault, domestic violence, criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct, criminal offenses involving children," Sauschuck said.

Credit Mal Leary / MPBN
Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican, introduces the so-called "open carry" gun bill Wednesday.

A number of gun control advocates shared the podium in opposition LD 652. Among them was Tom Franklin, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence. "Concealing a gun makes it a whole lot easier to walk into a bank, a convenience store, a movie theater or a school, and then commit a crime," Franklin said.

And Franklin says society should be concerned about who has a right to carry a concealed firearm in these types of places. "If we have learned anything from the gun tragedies of recent years, it is that some owners of guns are dangerously unstable."

Opponents of LD 652 cite a recent telephone survey of 800 Mainers, finding 84 percent of them strongly favor keeping the concealed carry law in place. Supporters of the legislation, however, also claim popular support, and point to the nearly 100 lawmakers that have signed on as co-sponsors.

At a State House hearing Wednesday afternoon, the bill was presented by Republican state Sen. Eric Brakey, of Auburn. "This legislation seeks to allow law-abiding citizens who are already legally able to own and carry a firearm the right to carry a concealed handgun without a permit," Brakey said.

Brakey describes his bill as being, at heart, a modest proposal. "It does not change in any way who can carry a firearm. If we pass this, every single person who is currently prohibited from carrying a firearm would still be prohibited."

Not all factions of Maine's law enforcement community are opposed to Brakey's bill. Maj. Chris Grotton spoke on behalf of the Maine State Police. He described what he calls the "realities and limitations" of Maine's current handgun permitting system, which he says is antiquated and inefficient.

"There's no process for any agency to check for previous denials when processing an application," he said, something which enables applicants to "permit shop" between departments. And Grotton says there's no central depository for data, making it hard to establish any statewide consistency in the permitting system.

"It is our opinion that law enforcement resources could be utilized in a more efficient manner, such as identifying those persons who are, and who continue to be, prohibited from possessing a firearm, and effectively communicating that information amongst law enforcement agencies, instead of regulating those that are generally complying with the law."

Speaking earlier in the day, Portland Police Chief Mike Sauschuck admits that the permitting process isn't perfect, but he believes it should be kept in place. "From our perspective, laws and rules and regulations are really made to mitigate risk and not eliminate risk. I don't think anybody would stand here and say that this permitting process eliminates the risk that concealed weapons show out there in the community."

In LD 652 passes, Maine would join a small but growing number of states adopting the so-called "constitutional carry" law, including Vermont, Alaska and Arizona.