Maine constitutional carry measure off to a fast start

Maine Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin, is backing a measure to bring permitless carry to the Pine Tree State that has already achieved widespread bipartisan support. (Photo: Sun Journal)

Maine Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin, is backing a measure to bring permitless carry to the Pine Tree State that has already achieved widespread bipartisan support. (Photo: Sun Journal)

Maine stands to become the latest state in the country to allow the lawful concealed carry of handguns without a permit with the introduction of a bill in the state legislature that enjoys nearly 100 sponsors.

The legislation, advocating what is termed constitutional carry, would allow residents who are not prohibited from possessing firearms to carry a concealed pistol or revolver while preserving the current licensing scheme to grant those who travel out of the state reciprocal rights.

“Under current Maine law, the simple action of putting on a jacket turns a law-abiding gun owner into a law breaker, unless they undergo a lengthy permitting process,” said state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin. “This legislation changes that, and in doing so restores our Second Amendment Rights.”

Brakey’s measure, LD 652/SP 245, authorities a person not prohibited from possessing a firearm by federal or state law to carry a concealed handgun without first obtaining a permit. In addition, it allows for the possession of a loaded handgun in a motor vehicle, which is currently against the law. Currently, the practice outlined in the bill, commonly known as constitutional carry, is the law of the land in Vermont, Arizona, Alaska and Wyoming.

Although just introduced last week, the bipartisan bill already has 96 sponsors between the two chambers. Maine has a split legislature, with Dems in the driver’s seat in the House and a GOP-controlled Senate, making support from both sides of the aisle all-important to get the measure in front of Gov. Paul LePage (R).

Brakey, age 26, is the youngest member of the Senate and a self-professed advocate against what he terms big government and the championing of legislation to reduce state influence on Mainers. Besides his constitutional carry measure, Brakey also has submitted a proposal to repeal the seat belt law for adults over 18 and “right to try” legislation to allow patents the choice to use drugs not yet approved by the FDA.

However not all are on board with his concealed carry proposal.

Law enforcement lobby groups are concerned that while they understand the reasoning behind the measure, they still oppose it on grounds that the current permitting process gives a degree of local control over who legally carries.

“Part of the origin of the bill is frustration with how local agencies make determinations of who should be issued a concealed weapons permit,” Bob Howe, a lobbyist for the Maine Chiefs of Police explained to Maine Public Radio.

“I would like to think that maybe the process could be slowed down a little bit and take a closer look at the whole process and maybe come up with a more clear standard by which the towns or the state make this determination,” Howe explained, “rather than just throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.”

Local gun rights advocates, on the other hand, welcome the proposal.

Jeff W. Zimba, the firearms policy consultant for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine feels that the state already allows anyone who could legally possess a gun to take it in public through the current system of open carry. Requiring a permit to do the same thing with a concealed handgun, Zumba feels, is redundant.

“We have a broken system – Since the system we have in place now is ineffective and expensive, and provides little service to anyone, let’s read the writing on the wall and move beyond ‘this is how we have always done it.’ It doesn’t work as is,” said Zimba in a statement from the group.

Constitutional carry bills have been a popular item nationwide with state legislatures this session. Texas, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Kansas have all made progress on measures of their own in recent weeks.

The proposal is scheduled for debate in the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in coming days.