AUGUSTA — A bill that would have made it legal to carry a concealed handgun without a permit was defeated by a single vote Tuesday in the Maine House of Representatives.
The 74-73 vote in opposition to the bill came after about an hourlong floor debate on the issue.
Maine’s current law requires a government-issued permit to carry a concealed handgun. State law allows open carrying of firearms without a permit.
While the vote split largely along party lines with Republicans supporting the bill, authored by Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, several Democrats also supported the measure. One Republican, Rep. Amy Volk of Scarborough, voted with Democrats.
“I can walk up and down the streets of Portland with my 9-millimeter on my hip and nobody can say anything to me,” Libby said after the vote. “But as soon as I put my jacket on, on a rainy day like this, I am now a criminal.”
Libby said it made no sense to him and to others who see the need for a permit to carry a concealed firearm as an infringement of their rights under the state and federal constitutions.
The narrow defeat of the measure shows the public’s view on the topic is changing, Libby said. He noted that previous efforts in Maine to remove the permit requirement have been overwhelmingly rejected.
“There’s a gut check on this one when people first see it,” Libby said. “But when people first start to actually hear the debate and actually read it and think it over, they see it.”
Libby said those who apply for concealed-handgun permits are by-and-large law-abiding citizens and that criminals don’t apply to carry hidden handguns. He noted that the waiting time, because of the volume of requests, could be as long as 180 days for Maine State Police to issue a concealed handgun permit.
He said that was of little solace to a person seeking a permit for personal protection, such as a victim of domestic violence who is seeking a permit for self-protection.
“This is not about increasing gun possession,” Libby said. “This is about common sense.”
He said state police resources spent on reviewing applications and issuing permits could be better used to actually fight crime.
But those on the other side of the issue said Maine was not ready to let anybody carry a concealed firearm and the vetting of those who want to do so is a good thing for public safety.
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, a former Cumberland County sheriff, said police officers supported the permitting law as another layer of protection.
He said some like to see the gun issues in “distinct and abject boxes” but the real issue for police is the people who are in the “gray area” between law-abiding citizens who apply for permits to carry and criminals who disregard the law completely.
“What I’ve learned in this gun debate is how easy it is to follow absolutes,” Dion said. “Good citizens; criminals. As if they are that distinct.”
Dion said some of those who would want to carry concealed without permits would do so to simply boost their egos.
“Those individuals do in fact apply for concealed-weapons permits,” he said. “Those individuals see that weapon as an extension of their ego and desire it more than the common citizens does. Theirs is not a concern of self-defense. Theirs is a concern that keeps a good police officer awake at night.”
Dion said the current system is not perfect. “The evidence is overwhelming that we have great work ahead of us.”
He said the small percentage of individuals who were denied a concealed-weapon permit were what he wanted his colleagues to think about.
“Do we want to give them a green light to do what they have not been able to do until this point?” Dion said.
Dion also spoke of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s views on gun control.
“Not the most liberal jurist by any means,” Dion said referring to the Supreme Court conservative. “He tells us in his writings and his decisions that though it is a right, it is malleable, it can be shaped, it can recognize the needs of public safety.”
He said he found it ironic that the history of the sheriff in the U.S. has been one of bringing peace to communities, “to help us disarm, to let the guns go home and take them off the street, so there could be a common peace that we all share.”
How they voted on LD 660
Note: A yes vote was against the bill.
Rep. Michael Beaulieu, R-Auburn. Absent
Rep. Brian Bolduc, D-Auburn. Yes
Rep. Cheryl Briggs, D-Mexico. Yes
Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston. Yes
Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon. No
Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel. No
Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D- Brunswick. Yes
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland. Yes
Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden. No
Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester. No
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick. Yes
House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport. No
Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. Yes
Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay. Yes
Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor. Yes
Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington. No
Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield. No
Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop. No
Rep. Roger Jackson, R-Oxford. No
Rep. Gary Knight, R-Livermore Falls. No
Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston. Yes
Rep. Nathan Libby, D-Lewiston. Yes
Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston. Yes
Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland. Yes
Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. No
Rep. Tom Tyler, R-Windham. No
Rep. Lisa Villa, D-Harrison. No
Rep. Wayne Werts, D-Auburn. No
Rep. Alex Willette, R-Mapleton. No
Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway. No
Rep. Stephen Wood, R-Sabattus. No
Click for complete roll call on LD 660.