Handgun sales spike in advance of Maine permit change

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AUBURN — An upcoming change in Maine law that allows adults to carry a concealed handgun without a permit is triggering a spike in gun sales at some local shops. 

John Reid, owner of J.T. Reid’s Gun Shop in Auburn, said Tuesday that sales of handguns are up and he’s ordered more firearms to keep up with the demand.

Reid said much of his new business is coming in response to a law that goes into effect in October. It essentially does away with the requirement in Maine that those carrying a concealed handgun first obtain a permit from police.

“People are showing a lot of interest in it, and I’ve ordered another 100 handguns to add to the inventory,” Reid said. He said weapons popular for personal defense, such as 9 mm and .38-caliber pistols, were the top sellers.

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Maine’s recent law shift aligns the state with a few others in allowing so-called “constitutional” or “permitless” carry for adults who are not otherwise prohibited by state and federal law from possessing a firearm.

Nick Ayotte,  owner of Northeastern Firearms in Turner, said the hot days of summer are slower for gun sales for him but customers and others are interested in the Maine’s changing law. And while the change doesn’t require those carrying handguns to participate in any certified safety training, Ayotte and other gun shop owners said they highly encourage new handgun owners to seek it out.

Ayotte said he encourages people to obtain a concealed handgun permit from the state as well. That system will remain in place, which allows those with permits to also carry a concealed weapon in about 20 other states that recognize Maine permits.

“We recommend people go through the permit process because it shows a commitment to being responsible and being safe,” Ayotte said. He said he keeps a list of certified firearms instructors available so he can make recommendations to new gun owners for training.

Maine’s concealed permit requirement includes a criminal and mental health background check and demonstration of training either through the military or a certified handgun instructor.

Chris Jordan, owner of G-3 Firearms, also in Turner, said people were also asking him a lot about the new law but he was still studying it himself.

Like Ayotte, he said he had seen a huge upswing in sales, but added that during the summer people are not that interested in shooting.

“Like today,” Jordan said Tuesday as temperatures reached into the 90s in the Twin Cities. “You want to stand in a gravel pit and shoot?” He said he expected things would pick up more in September as the weather cools down and hunting season approaches.

Jordan also said he urges people to learn about Maine’s laws regarding the use of deadly force because many people are misinformed thinking they can deploy deadly force to protect personal property when that’s not the case.

Another sales manager at one of the state’s largest handgun retailers, who asked not to be identified, said the volume of handgun sales his company does had not seen any noticeable spikes because of the new law. But he also said that handgun sales were generally up over the past three or four years and that many customers were asking about Maine’s law change.

“It’s a pretty significant change, and people are excited about it and asking about it,” he said.

That manager also said visitors to Maine from states that require handgun permits were also excited to learn they would no longer need a nonresident handgun permit in the Pine Tree State. “It’s really just a new convenience for them,” he said.

The new law, which goes into effect Oct. 14, also includes new requirements of gun sellers and for those who decide to carry a hidden firearm on their person. but few of the dealers contacted Tuesday seemed to be aware of these changes.

Reid said, so far, state officials had yet to notify gun sellers of the changes and he suggested the state should set up an information table at an upcoming gun show in Augusta.

“They really haven’t gotten the word out that well yet,” Reid said. He and the other gun dealers said they believed the state would be doing that soon.

The Maine Department of Public Safety has also updated its website with a page dedicated to the new law change that includes links to several of Maine’s applicable laws regarding use of force and use of deadly force.

The department’s page also includes a document that summarizes the law change but also repeatedly notes, “This agency is not authorized to give legal advice.”

“Firearms laws are complex,” the summary reads in part but also notes, “The law does not otherwise change where a person may carry or who may possess a firearm.”

It includes a list of public places where it remains illegal to possess a firearm including: courthouse, public schools, state parks, federal buildings, the state capitol area and private property when prohibited by the property owner, including a bar. If the bar allows concealed weapons, the summary notes, it is still illegal to carry a handgun in a bar, “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.”

Among the new requirements in the law is one that gun sellers provide buyers with some handgun safety materials prepared by the Maine Department of Public Safety and that buyers acknowledge their receipt of that material with a signature, according to Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn.

Brakey, the primary sponsor of the bill that rolled back the permit requirement, said another part of the new law requires those carrying a concealed handgun without a permit to disclose the weapon whenever they encounter police, such as at a routine traffic stop. Brakey said those who have concealed handgun permits are not required to disclose to police.

But Brakey also said he had discrimination concerns about that provision of the law and would work to change it. Under the new law, a person carrying a handgun without a permit is required to “immediately” disclose the presence of the weapon or face a civil fine of up to $100. Brakey said he only wanted mandatory disclosure  if an officer first asked about weapons.

Maine State Police Sgt. Mike Johnston, who compiled the summary, said the Department of Public Safety was also in the process of determining which handgun safety brochure it would be asking gun dealers to distribute. Johnston said the state may pick a brochure that’s already written or may develop its own.

Johnston said police were not changing any of their basic operating procedures in light of the law change but acknowledged they may begin to encounter more individuals with handguns in the future.

“Maine law enforcement are trained, in terms of officer safety and situational awareness, to expect that anyone could have a firearm or dangerous weapon,” Johnston said. “We still treat them professionally and appropriately but even though this may increase the likelihood we may encounter someone who may be carrying law enforcement officers are trained to be every vigilant and ever aware that someone may have a firearm or dangerous weapon to do them harm.”

He said officers will continue to deal with individuals based on the information they have available to them at time.

Johnston also said the department has a link to all of the relevant use of force laws in Maine so individuals can be fully informed. He said it’s important for those carrying to fully understand their legal responsibilities too.

“Probably more important than knowing the actual mechanics of how to use a firearm is knowing when you can use it,” Johnston said. 

Auburn’s Deputy Police Chief Jason Moen said he has yet to see a large number of inquiries about the law change but was prepared with a flier to hand out to the public detailing the law changes. 

Moen also said that applications for concealed weapons permits were still coming in at a “steady pace.” Moen said Auburn has 864 active concealed weapons permits.

Lt. Adam Higgins, the public information officer for the Lewiston Police, said his department’s officers had been notified of the law change with a memo.

He said in terms of how officers interact with the public there would be no real changes.

Like Johnston, Higgins said, the officers are aware there is a greater chance they may now encounter somebody with a handgun on them. Higgins also said there had yet to be an onslaught of questions from the public on the new law. He said Lewiston has just over 1,000 active permits.

While the state police spoke in support of the law change others law enforcement organizations in Maine opposed it, including the Maine Sheriffs’ Association and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. 

“Maine, as it stands now, has a process to allow (a person) to carry a handgun concealed that at least demands a level of training for obvious safety reasons,” Sheriffs’ Association President and Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry told the Legislature Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. 

The Maine Medical Association also offered testimony in opposition to the bill.

Dr. Edward Walworth, a retired surgeon from Lewiston and a member of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, wrote in opposition to the bill.

Walworth described his experience serving as a surgeon with Doctors Without Borders during three missions to Africa.

“Each time, I have treated gunshot wounds,” he wrote. “Each time the doctors and nurses working there with me have asked why there are so many guns in America. They constantly see guerrilla bands all around them and care for the survivors of AK-47 wounds. They cannot understand why a country with wealth and food and laws needs so many guns and why there are so many incidents of firearms violence here.”

Maine, in 2014, also received an “F” ranking from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national group that advocates for gun safety in the U.S.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

Summary of Maine Law Changes for Concealed Handguns


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