AUGUSTA — A Republican effort to make it legal to carry a concealed handgun without a permit was shot down in the Maine Senate on Friday.

The Senate voted 19-14, largely along party lines, to indefinitely postpone the proposed amendment to a bill that would create a statewide database for concealed handgun permits and make the chief of the Maine State Police responsible for doing all background checks on permits.

That measure, which passed the Senate 20-13, also on party lines, allows police chiefs and county sheriffs to issue permits but strips that authority from local elected officials, including town boards of selectmen, which previously could issue permits.

State Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, offered the amendment that would have made it legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. 

Lawmakers supporting the amendment, which also received the support of the pro-gun National Rifle Association, said it was meant to protect and restore Second Amendment rights prescribed in the Maine and U.S. constitutions.

“My interpretation of those constitutions are that we do guarantee people the right to carry,” state Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham said to his colleagues, urging them to vote against postponing the vote on Mason’s amendment.

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Plummer said those in the Senate who agreed with him deserved a chance to have their votes counted.

But state Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the Senate’s assistant majority leader, said the amendment would “completely undermine the system of concealed-weapon permits that we have currently here in the state.”

Haskell said that system, which requires a permit applicant to obtain handgun training and to pass criminal and mental health background checks “provides all the law enforcement and officials some confidence in the people who carry those concealed-weapon permits.”

She said the permit system creates a confidential registry of permit-holders that only law enforcement can access. She also said the amendment would move Maine closer to a “stand-your-ground” footing, citing laws in other states that have resulted in controversial legal battles after individuals have shot people.

On Thursday, the House also passed the bill after another attempt to amend it to expand the right to carry a concealed weapon without a permit failed because of a procedural flaw.

Some lawmakers opposed removing selectmen from the group of officials that could issue handgun permits, saying it was an erosion of local control.

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But a study by the Maine State Police in December revealed that roughly 44 percent of municipalities were not conducting the required background checks.

State police Lt. Scott Ireland said the bill is a “step forward,” and that handing responsibility for background checks to the Department of Public Safety is the only way to ensure that all the relevant background checks are conducted.

“These are records that only law enforcement can obtain,” Ireland told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday. “They are checks that (selectmen) cannot do, as civilians.”

The bill must return to the House for another round of voting.

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