In Maine, it’s not that difficult to get permission to carry a concealed weapon: If you are of “good moral character,” authorities have to give you a permit when you show them that you’re at least 18, you’ve undergone firearm safety training and can legally own a gun.
Too many of the cities and towns that vet permit applications, however, aren’t doing the required reviews, raising the risk that questionable applications will fall through the cracks. So L.D. 222, which would ensure all concealed-carry applications are handled by people with law enforcement training, is a major step forward for public safety and should receive final House and Senate approval.
As with many government functions, Maine favors local control of concealed-carry permit processing. Currently, applicants can get concealed-handgun permits through state police, local police or their selectmen. When town officials oversee the process, however, information relevant to the decision can go overlooked.
For example, 44 percent of the municipalities in Maine that issue permits aren’t conducting legally mandated mental health checks, a state police survey has found. It’s also important that authorities issuing permits are informed about an applicant’s full criminal history, including convictions for offenses committed when they lived somewhere else. Police have access to these databases, but civilian municipal officials don’t.
It makes sense, then, to bar towns without a full-time police chief from issuing concealed-carry permits, instead granting that authority to state police, as proposed under L.D. 222. Local police chiefs and county sheriffs also would have the authority to give out permits. And chiefs, sheriffs and the state police would be responsible for doing all background checks. By allowing for trained scrutiny of the background of concealed-carry permit applicants, these provisions would ensure greater gun safety in Maine — an outcome of unquestionable benefit.
We’re less enthusiastic about a provision of the bill that creates a database of permit holders accessible only to law enforcement officials, thus keeping hidden records that should be open to all.
Granted, privacy concerns justify redacting information in the database about individuals’ mental health and criminal backgrounds. Nobody, however, has shown how identifying permit holders — as Maine did for more than three decades without incident — would affect the capacity of the database to streamline permit checks and make it easier for other states to honor Maine concealed-carry permits.
A consistent, informed concealed-carry permitting process is a crucial part of the effort in Maine to keep deadly weapons out of the wrong hands. On the whole, L.D. 222 is a step in the right direction, and it deserves to be passed.