LEWISTON — The city’s police chief said Monday a change in state law three years ago allowing concealed gun carry without a permit has triggered a spike in reports of gun-related crimes.

Police Chief Brian O’Malley called the effect an “unintended consequence” of the 2015 law change.

“I’m seeing people who wouldn’t carry in the past, who may not be felons, who are carrying these firearms,” O’Malley said. “What used to be a fistfight — now a gun is brought into play.”

Over the past three months or so, police have seen an uptick in the number of incidents involving firearms, including gunshots heard or reports of shootings, O’Malley said.

Several men were recently charged in connection with a July 7 shootout at a Bartlett Street apartment building where bullet holes were found in an apartment where two young children lived.

On June 16, a man was shot in the leg at Bartlett and Pine streets. That same day, there were reports of gunfire on Spring Street.

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O’Malley said his officers are seeing more instances where someone might shoot a gun into the air to scare someone or drive home a point, not to physically harm anyone.

“As responsible gun owners know,” he said, “when you pull that trigger and that bullet goes up in the air, it’s coming down somewhere.”

Before the law change, if someone from out of state were in the city and intending cause harm or otherwise break a law, police were able to arrest him or her for gun possession if the person lacked a concealed carry permit.

“Now, my officers can’t do that because the law is no longer in place,” O’Malley said. “We’re seeing people who have no real knowledge of how to use a firearm.”

One woman reported she had bought a gun for protection and lost it at a party last weekend, he said. Some people have turned in AK-47s to police because they had the guns and did not think they should.

“This is an issue where guns are now what used to be just a traffic accident and maybe some road rage and yelling, we’ve had people waving guns around at people,” O’Malley said. “We’re seeing this huge influx of guns being involved, when in years past there were some steps that we could take prior to it becoming shootouts that we’re having here in Lewiston.”

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O’Malley added, “I see that as the biggest reason we’re having gun violence.”

Although gun violence has largely been aimed at drug dealers, O’Malley said he fears for the innocent bystanders who might get caught in the crossfire.

While police for years have witnessed crimes involving mental health, domestic violence and drug issues, O’Malley said, “when you have those issues and you put a firearm in the mix, that’s when we start having some serious problems.”

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