AUGUSTA — State lawmakers Friday were prepping themselves for a round of upcoming hearings, debates and decisions on proposed changes to Maine’s gun laws.

In an informational session the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee heard from several experts on the state’s gun laws, including Maine Attorney General Janet Mills

In the pipeline are more than 20 bills that look to address a variety of issues revolving around the use and possession of firearms in Maine.

At least a dozen of those measures go to public hearings in a few days.

Many of the bills look to add restrictions, such as background checks at gun shows and private sales and capacity limits on ammunition clips.

Others would loosen gun control. For example, some bills would prohibit the state from enforcing federal gun laws. One proposal even aims to completely eliminate the state’s permit requirement for carrying concealed handguns. 

Mills on Friday gave lawmakers on the committee an overview of the state’s gun law history, including a state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1987 that clarified the right to keep and bear arms in Maine was an individual right.

That amendment stripped from the constitution the words “for the common defense,” Mills said.

She pointed out that while Maine law has few mandatory minimum-sentence lengths, almost every crime involving a firearm, or in which a firearm is used in the commission of that crime, includes minimum prison time for those convicted.

Firearms also are considered an aggravating factor in Maine crimes, which can up the severity of punishment for people convicted of other crimes such as drug trafficking while in possession of a firearm, she said.

She reviewed the extent of violent crime in Maine committed with firearms, which is relatively low and noted that about 25 percent of the state’s unattended deaths so far in 2013 were suicides in which firearms were used. Several of those involved juveniles.

“It’s a serious problem in this state,” Mills said, “a really tough thing to handle, a tough thing to deal with in statute. You could theoretically charge a parent with endangering the welfare of a child, if a child had access to a loaded gun in the house and used it against themselves. But this parent has already lost a child, so it’s a very tough thing.”

Domestic violence cases in Maine often involve firearms or threatening with firearms. Mills praised the Legislature for placing in Maine law provisions that allow judges to confiscate firearms in those cases.

“It’s not uncommon at all to go into court on a protection-order hearing day, in any court in this state, and to have dozens of cases on the docket,” Mills said. She said state judges often require the relinquishing of firearms while those cases are pending, “so that in the heat of passion somebody doesn’t go and grab a gun and do the wrong thing with it.”

Maine State Police also briefed the committee on the status of the state’s concealed-handgun permitting system and noted that most handgun permits in Maine are not issued by state police.

Lt. Scott Ireland said state police issue permits for people living in unorganized territories in Maine, for any nonresident and for more than 300 towns and municipalities. In the past four or five months, Ireland said, state police received about 150 permit applications a day. He said last year they issued about 8,000 permits and that the current waiting period for processing a permit was about 150 days.

Lawmakers asked what state police needed to expedite that process or whether that wait time was a necessary part of the process. Ireland said the wait times could be reduced with more staff and better technology. 

State Police Commissioner John Morris, a former Waterville police chief, also spoke to the committee and noted how permits actually look can vary from town to town, depending on who is issuing them.

“A selectman can write it on a brown paper bag and sign it,” Morris said.

Ireland has previously said state police would like to see a uniform permit design, making it easier for police, regardless of where they are in the state, to verify that a permit is valid.

Several other bills moving through the Legislature look to correct this issue, as well as to create a statewide database of permits for law enforcement use.

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Gun legislation pending before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee for the week ahead.

Monday, April 8, 10 a.m.

LD 267, “An Act Regarding the Sale of Firearms at Gun Shows” 

LD 380, “An Act to Clarify the Law Concerning the Threatening Display of Dangerous Weapons” 

LD 997, “An Act to Establish Restrictions on Ammunition Feeding Devices” 

LD 1054, “An Act to Prohibit Enforcement by a Federal or State Official or Others of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012” 

LD 1183, “An Act to Prohibit the Enforcement of Federal Law Placing Restrictions on Firearms or Ammunition” 

LD 1240, “An Act to Promote the Safe Use and Sale of Firearms” 

Tuesday, April 9, 1 p.m.

LD 265, “An Act to Repeal the Restriction on Employers Regarding Firearms Kept in an Employee’s Vehicle” 

LD 771, “An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Reciprocity for Concealed Handguns Permits” 

LD 1173 “An Act to Repeal the Law Allowing Concealed Weapons in State Parks with Certain Exceptions” 

Wednesday, April 10, 1 p.m.

LD 335, “An Act to Review Firearm Laws in the State”

LD 724, “An Act to Require Firearms Used in the Commission of Certain Acts to Be Civilly Forfeited to the State and Destroyed”

LD 1182, “An Act Regarding the Disposition of Firearms in State Custody” 

Thursday, April 11, 10 a.m.

LD 660, “An Act to Enhance Self-defense by Removing Restrictions on the Carrying and Use of Weapons” 

Thursday,  April 11, 1 p.m.

LD 594, “An Act to Prohibit Possession of a Firearm by a Person Who Has Created a Police Standoff” 

LD 958, “An Act to Establish a Database to Prevent Individuals Involuntarily Admitted or Committed to a Mental Health Institution from Being Issued Concealed Handgun Permits”

LD 1053, “An Act Regarding a Retired Law Enforcement Officer Carrying a Concealed Handgun without a Permit” 

Friday, April 12, 10 a.m.

LD 188, “An Act to Criminalize Possession of a Suspended or Revoked Concealed Handgun Permit” 

LD 189, “An Act to Establish a Central Concealed Handgun Permit Database” 

LD 191, “An Act to Authorize the Suspension of a Concealed Handgun Permit” 

LD 222, “An Act Designating the Chief of the State Police as the Only Issuing Authority of a Permit to Carry a Concealed Handgun” 

LD 223, “An Act to Amend the Laws Regarding a Concealed Handgun Permit” 

LD 1022, “An Act to Improve Training Requirements for Obtaining a Concealed Handgun Permit”

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