A new law passed in June by the Maine State Legislature, which took effect on Thursday, October 15, allows legal gun owners, 21 years and older or military members 18 years and older, to carry concealed firearms without police-issued permits.
Maine is not the first state to allow residents to carry concealed firearms without a license. States such as Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Vermont, and Wyoming do not require residents to obtain a police-issued permit before they can carry concealed firearms.
However in New Hampshire, Governor Maggie Hassan vetoed a bill earlier in the year that would have allowed residents to carry concealed weapons without police permits.
But under the new law in Maine, firearms remain prohibited in gun-free zones such as courthouses, public schools, and federal buildings.
State Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Auburn), who sponsored the bill, extolled the new law, saying he was proud of it. According to Brakey, there was no need to require law-abiding citizens to obtain police permits before they can carry concealed weapons because “a criminal is not going to get a permit. He is going to break the law.”
Thus, requiring law-abiding citizens to obtain permits before being able to carry concealed firearms only gives a false sense of security, Brakey argued.
He said that removing permit requirement barriers makes it easier for law-abiding residents to carry weapons for self-defense.
“A criminal is not going to get a permit. He’s going to break the law. The same goes for gun-free zones. Criminals are not going to obey these zones.”
He told Portland Press Herald, “I’ve heard from people who love it and people who have concerns. No one (legislative) district is made up of a monolithic block of people. But even those with concerns I’ve been able to talk to and explain what this does.”
But Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said on Wednesday that the new law will put the public at risk and make officers’ jobs more difficult. He said he was concerned that the new law will increase the incidence of untrained gun owners, risk of people acting recklessly and exercising poor judgment in the use of their firearms.
“I think this law was misguided. We continue to go the wrong way on gun legislation.”
Sauschuck illustrated his argument with an incident before the new law took effect. A 58-year-old man, Peter Shepard, reportedly threatened people with a gun at a shopping plaza parking lot. When police arrived at the scene, they were able to arrest Shepard and charge him because he had no permit. But under the new law, anyone could get away with Shepard’s public misbehavior because they won’t need a permit to carry a gun.
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck told the Portland Press Herald, “This will make our jobs more difficult. I think this law was misguided. We continue to go the wrong way on gun legislation.”
He also told local news station WCSH6, “This is a poor piece of legislation that we’re all about to suffer through.”
Although Sauschuck has expressed opposition to the new law, during public hearing on the bill, the Maine State Police and Governor Paul LePage supported it while the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Maine Sheriffs Association opposed it, Portland Press Herald reports.
Dusty Rhodes, a retired Old Town police officer, said, “I really wish they hadn’t removed the permit. It required a background check, a mental health check, you had to show proficiency, and you had to submit fingerprints. You had some count on who is carrying.”
But gun advocates are arguing that contrary to fears, the new law will not cause confusion or chaos. Advocates point to the fact that 2013 FBI statistics show that Vermont, which allows residents to carry concealed weapons without permits, has the lowest crime rate in the country, ahead only of Maine.
Jeff Zimba, a gun safety instructor and consultant, told the Bangor Daily News, “People think all of a sudden it’s going to be the Wild, Wild West. We’re finding just the opposite — people are signing up for safety courses. They want more education. They’re all saying doomsday, but we’re seeing just the opposite.”
Adam Foster, a gun instructor from Saco, York County, Maine, notes he has lived in Alaska where residents are allowed to carry concealed weapons without permits. He said that the law has not caused chaos in Alaska and thus there was no reason to believe it would cause chaos in Maine.
“The world continued to turn round and round. Nothing changed, really. There were no wild, crazy gunfights in the street.”
Before the new law passed, residents of Maine were required to undergo a rigorous process including background checks, which reviewed criminal history and domestic violence records, before they were issued concealed carry permits. They were also required to take a gun safety course.