AUGUSTA — Maine’s debate on concealed-handgun permits took a familiar turn Tuesday as business interests clashed with gun rights advocates over an employee’s ability to keep a concealed handgun in a vehicle at work.
A mostly Republican-backed measure, enacted in 2011 and strengthened last year, prohibited companies from barring employees with concealed-handgun permits from leaving concealed handguns in cars at workplaces.
L.D. 265, sponsored by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, would repeal that law, allowing employers to decide whether employees may have weapons on their premises.
“We were fixing a problem last year that didn’t exist,” Gerzofsky told the committee.
The 2011 bill was sponsored by then-Rep. Richard Cebra, now chairman of the Maine Republican Party, and supported by the National Rifle Association. Only 13 Democratic legislators in both houses voted to enact the law, while 16 Republicans broke ranks to oppose it.
The NRA’s website calls the existing law “an important employee protection measure.” Other gun rights advocates said there’s been no proven danger when employees have weapons in their cars in Maine.
“We are curious. What is this bill fixing?” Becky Morrell, a lobbyist for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, asked during testimony on Gerzofsky’s bill. “Has there been a rash of crimes related to employees using firearms in the workplace?”
In 2012, members of the business community, including the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, fought a bill that expanded that law to cover state employees. It passed anyway.
On Tuesday, the chamber was back, along with the Retail Association of Maine, the Maine Restaurant Association, the Maine Hospital Association and other business groups, lobbying in favor of Gerzofsky’s bill.
“We do not see this as a gun issue. It is a workplace issue,” said Peter Gore, a lobbyist for the chamber. “The bill is about returning a choice back to employers and letting them decide what policy, if any, works best for them.”
In written testimony, David Brenerman, vice president of government affairs at Unum, an insurance company with a location in Portland, said oftentimes in the workplace, there are disagreements and firings.
“We are very concerned that having a weapon convenient in their vehicle can lead to tragic situations in the workplace when such emotional events occur,” he wrote.
But Donald Loncto of Fletchers Landing Township, testifying against the bill, said it would be “creating a part-time concealed-carry permit.”
Jeffrey Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association, said a gun would likely not be available to permit-holders on their way to and from work, as well as anywhere they stop along the way.
“Consequently, the (permit) holder would be disarmed every workday, limiting his or her right to self-defense during the work week,” he said.
The committee also heard testimony Tuesday on two other bills regarding concealed weapons Ä one by Gerzofsky that would ban them in state parks, and another, sponsored by Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, that would weaken permit reciprocity between Maine and other states.
The Gerzofsky proposal, L.D. 1173, would partially roll back a 2011 law that allowed guns at state parks and other historic sites, but it would exempt law enforcement.
“I don’t want to see anybody walking around with a gun in their Speedo,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the kind of Maine we want.”
But in written testimony, John Hohenwarter, Maine state liaison for the NRA, said the bill would “deny the right of self-defense for the law-abiding and create a new ‘victim zone’ in Maine.”
Marks’ bill, L.D. 771, would prohibit a reciprocity agreement with another state to allow a permit issued by Maine to a nonresident to serve as a basis for the issuance of a permit in the other state.
Maine currently has reciprocity agreements with Delaware, South Dakota, Louisiana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Michigan, according to the Maine State Police. The agreements mean Maine permits are valid in those states and vice-versa.
Marks said his bill is aimed at out-of-staters who could use Maine permit laws to get around stricter laws in other states. For example, Wyoming law says a person must be 21 to get a permit, but an 18-year-old could get a permit in Maine, then use it there.
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 620-7015 or at [email protected]
On Twitter: @mikeshepherdme