AUGUSTA — A bill that would allow Mainers over the age of 18 to carry concealed handguns without permits was rejected Friday by a legislative committee.

The bill, LD 652, gained the support of three Republicans on the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, but all seven Democrats rejected the measure.  

Three other Republicans, who are expected to file their votes by the end of the day Monday, will likely back the bill, making the final vote, 6-7, according to the measure’s sponsor, Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn.

Brakey has 90 co-sponsors for the bill, which would make it legal for any person older than 18 who is not prohibited from possessing a handgun to carry one hidden on his or her person without a permit.

Maine law requires those seeking to carry concealed handguns to first obtain permits from Maine State Police, a local police chief or another issuing authority, including in some cases, boards of selectmen.

After the vote Friday, Brakey said he was confident the Republican-controlled Senate would reverse the committee’s decision, but the measure’s fate in the House, controlled by Democrats, was less certain.

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Brakey on Friday presented the committee with a petition with 500 signatures from “citizen co-sponsors” whom he said signed up to support the bill after the committee tabled the measure a week ago.

But those voting against the measure said they didn’t believe removing the permit requirement, which also requires applicants to show they’ve attended handgun safety training, was in the best interest of public safety.

“I’m trying to grapple with what is the most comprehensive way to both preserve 2nd Amendment rights and individual and public safety,” said Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco. Chenette said he was still interested in trying to find a way to move forward but suggested a firearms safety course should be an imperative before allowing a person to carry a hidden handgun in Maine.

Maine State Police support the bill, but the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Maine Sheriffs’ Association oppose it. 

The bill’s next stop will be before the full Senate, where the committee’s recommendation to kill the bill could be supported or overturned.

In other business Friday, the committee voted 6-4 in favor of a bill that would make Maine State Police the only issuing authority for concealed handgun permits in Maine. That bill would also increase the fees for handgun permits and create a database of permit holders that could be accessed 24 hours a day by law enforcement officers across Maine.

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