AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate, without debate, Wednesday amended a bill that allows adults 21 years old or older to carry concealed handguns without permits. The amendments ensure veterans and active-duty military members who are at least 18 would also be able to pack heat.
The bill, LD 652, sponsored by state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, has ricocheted between the Maine House and Senate three times over the past two weeks.
Lawmakers in the House, where Democrats hold the majority, are expected to vote on the bill with its new amendments Thursday, when it’s possible some Democrats, concerned about the bill’s possible impact on public safety, will attempt additional amendments.
Current law requires those wishing to carry concealed handguns to obtain permits from state or local law enforcement or local town officials. The permit requires a criminal background check and an in-state check of an individual’s mental health records.
Maine’s permit law also requires applicants to provide proof of handgun-safety training and allows for discretion by the issuing agency or officer as to whether the applicant possesses an upstanding “moral character.”
The Senate amendment added Wednesday appears to be in response to a complaint about the measure from Republican Gov. Paul LePage who said Tuesday he wouldn’t sign it into law without a provision exempting younger service members and veterans.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, said the governor proposed the amendment to lawmakers after he told a talk radio show he didn’t think it was right to exclude those who were old enough to risk their lives serving in the military but were not 21.
Monday, the bill passed the House on an 83-62 vote, with 13 Democrats and two independent lawmakers joining the Republican minority on the bill. Democrats amended it with the age restriction of 21.
The bill was further amended in the House on Monday to require anybody carrying a concealed handgun to disclose to police that they had a weapon on them, when stopped or interacting with police, whether or not the officer asked them about it.
The House votes Monday followed a 21-14 vote in the state Senate in late May that removed the permit requirement.
The disclosure provision gave conservatives heartburn and Senate Republicans on Wednesday amended that language to exempt those with concealed handgun permits from the disclosure provision.
The bill, as it is now structured, allows any person over the age of 21 who is not otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm under state or federal law to carry a concealed handgun in Maine without a permit.
While advocates for the change call it “constitutional carry” in reference to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and to Article 1, Section 16 of the Maine Constitution, opponents note that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled state laws requiring permits for firearms are constitutional.
The House had intended to vote on the Senate’s amendments to the bill Wednesday, but a technical problem with the computer and printing system in the Legislature that produces the actual documents the House needed for the votes delayed that vote until Thursday.
Brakey said he remained optimistic that the bill, in its current form, would win LePage’s signature. Its passage into law would be a major victory for the first-term state senator who said he didn’t want to say too much about the measure until after the House took its final votes on the bill.
“I think we’ve got the legislation to a place where the House, Senate and governor are now all comfortable with it, and I look forward to seeing it move forward to be signed by Gov. LePage,” Brakey said late Wednesday.