AUGUSTA — A bill that removes Maine’s requirement that those carrying a concealed handgun first obtain a permit from law enforcement to do so passed the state Senate on a 23-12 vote Tuesday.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, now moves to Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who will have 10 days to veto the bill, sign it or allow it to become law without his signature.

The bill, LD 652, which LePage has supported, puts the governor in a catch-22 situation of signing a bill into law after he promised to veto every bill sent to him in protest over the Legislature’s refusal to put a state constitutional amendment before voters that would eliminate the state’s income tax.

LePage’s staff has offered no comment on whether he will sign the bill.

Brakey said Tuesday he wouldn’t speculate on what LePage would do but said he was pleased his bill received bipartisan support in the Legislature.

As it stands, the bill does away with the requirement that an individual wanting to carry a concealed weapon first obtain a permit from Maine State Police or local officials. The permit requirement now in place requires a criminal background check, a mental health screening and evidence the individual seeking the permit has participated in a minimum level of handgun training.

The bill does not allow anybody who is otherwise prohibited under state or federal law from possessing a firearm to carry a weapon.

The bill, which will cost the state’s two-year budget about $200,000 in lost permit revenues, has been a longstanding goal of gun-rights advocates and makes Maine one of only a handful of states, including Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Vermont and Wyoming, that do not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

“We had strong, bipartisan support in both chambers,” Brakey said, noting that the bill achieved passage largely with the support of a handful of House Democrats, including Reps. Mike Shaw, D-Standish, and John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, as well as Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan.

“It really goes back to the fact that Maine really has a strong, bipartisan tradition of supporting the 2nd Amendment,” Brakey said. “It’s not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue; it’s something that works for the state of Maine.”

Brakey said that Vermont, which has long had a permitless concealed handgun law, was the safest state in the nation. Maine, he said, was second, based on FBI crime statistics.

But opponents to the measure have said they worry what will happen if more people start carrying handguns without training or basic mental health and criminal background checks.

“You are going to let people who can’t pass the background check on a concealed weapons permit just carry a gun, anyway. I don’t understand it,” Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said in a debate on the bill in May.

Also weighing in on the vote Tuesday was Everytown for Gun Safety and the Maine chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, condemning the bills approval by lawmakers.

The groups, which support increased gun control, said the vote flies in the face of all the current polling on handgun safety in Maine, which suggests 84 percent of the state’s households oppose the bill. 

“LD 652 eliminates an important tool that law enforcement uses to prevent dangerous people from carrying concealed, loaded weapons in public,” retired police chief Bob Schwartz, the executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said in a prepared statement. “By passing this bill, the Maine Legislature has put politics ahead of the public safety of Maine’s citizens, and the police officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe.”

Earlier this month, the Maine Gun Owners Association also announced its opposition to the bill, citing concerns about the elimination of basic safety training measures.

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