AUGUSTA — The rush that surrounded an emergency decision by lawmakers recently to shield concealed weapons permit holders’ information has ceded to letting the legislative process run its normal course.
But the controversy around the issue likely won’t end as legislative committees begin public hearings on at least 13 bills on the subject March 12.
The bills range from creating new ways to rescind a concealed weapon permit to another that would make it legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. These are in addition to dozens of other bills aimed at gun control.
There’s no doubt that gun rights proponents will be watching. One group, which already held a gun rights rally at the State House last month, has organized a March 9 protest against Rep. Tim Marks, D-Pittston, a retired state trooper who has sponsored several measures to alter the concealed weapons permit process.
Marks, who retired from the Maine State Police two years ago after 25 years as a trooper, is the primary sponsor of seven of the bills already proposed, according to a list of bill titles published by the Legislative Information Office. Marks said that, in general, he is not supportive of many gun control measures but felt he should address concealed weapons permits as a legislator because of problems he saw with the system during more than two decades of law enforcement. At the core of Marks’ proposals is making the Maine State Police the only agency in Maine that could issue concealed weapons permits. A related bill would require state police to keep a centralized database of concealed weapons holders.
According to Marks, the Maine State Police issue permits for some 300 municipalities, but more than 100 others issue them on their own. About 80 police departments also issue concealed weapons permits. There is no central location where all those permits are logged.
“Right now, there’s no easy way to validate or check on someone’s permit status,” said Marks. “If we’re going to do permits, why shouldn’t we do them right?”
Marks said the problem shows itself to law enforcement officers on a nearly daily basis. In addition to the inability to check the validity of a permit, Marks said knowing who holds a permit and who doesn’t is crucially important during a traffic stop or when an officer is en route to a crime scene.
Other bills proposed by Marks in this area would criminalize the possession of a suspended permit, include questions about a permit applicant’s mental status, alter Maine’s reciprocity agreements with other states when it comes to concealed weapons permits, change the age limit to hold a permit from 18 to 21, and make it easier to suspend an active permit.
Jessica Beckwith of Lewiston, who organized a Feb. 8 State House rally where Gov. Paul LePage said he wouldn’t support gun control measures if they come to his desk, is organizing another rally in Wiscasset on March 9, which is within Marks’ legislative district. Beckwith also is forming a nonprofit organization called the Maine Gun Rights Coalition.
“This will be a Second Amendment rally with a little more of a focus,” said Beckwith. “The representative from Pittston has proposed some really anti-gun legislation and we’re going to his district to call him out on it. We want to let our legislators know that when they propose anti-gun bills, that we’re going to let them know we’re not happy about it.”
Beckwith said she and others support “constitutional carry,” which means they don’t believe requiring concealed weapons permits is constitutional. The rally is scheduled start at noon Saturday, March 9, at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 27 in Wiscasset.
Marks said he doesn’t see his bills as anti-gun at all and that he’s considering attending the protest.
“I support the Second Amendment and I always have,” said Marks. “I support gun owners’ rights and my votes will reflect that.”
Marks’ bills are at the opposite end of the spectrum from a proposal by Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, who has submitted “An Act to Enhance Self-defense by Removing Restrictions on the Carrying and Use of Weapons.”
Libby said that while his bill wouldn’t alter Maine’s concealed weapon permit system, it essentially would bypass it by allowing the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit.
“This doesn’t get rid of our permitting process at all,” said Libby, who said he proposed the bill because he believes it follows the intent of the U.S. Constitution. “Where is it more rational, to have that weapon below your coat on your hip or inside your jacket?”
Asked why anyone would still seek a concealed weapon permit if his bill were successful, Libby drew parallels to safety courses that people take voluntarily, such as defensive driving, safe boating and safe all-terrain vehicle operation.
“There are plenty of people who do those things without being told to,” said Libby.
Other firearms permit bills submitted by legislators include one to improve training requirements for a permit, one to allow retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons without permits, one to repeal a bill passed in the last legislative session that barred employers from banning employees from keeping guns in their cars, and a bill to ensure the confidentiality of permit holders’ personal information.
That bill, sponsored by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, would make permanent the emergency moratorium on the release of permit holders’ information passed by the Legislature just days after the Bangor Daily News filed then rescinded a statewide freedom of information request for the data. A public hearing has been scheduled for Wilson’s bill at 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, with the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee in Room 438 of the State House.
There is also a potentially wide-ranging bill under development by the Department of Public Safety that deals with permits issued to nonresidents, “An Act to Strengthen the Integrity of Nonresident Concealed Handgun Permits,” but that bill has not yet been written.