AUGUSTA — Bills that would expand Mainers’ rights to carry concealed weapons faced opposition from business groups and public safety and municipal officials Monday during a series of legislative hearings.

The proposals’ supporters argued that current laws are too restrictive.

Bills before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee would:

* Allow permit holders to carry concealed firearms into the State House complex (L.D. 932).

* Make it cheaper to apply for a concealed weapons permit, and make the permit valid for a longer period (L.D. 658).

* Exempt guns manufactured in Maine from federal laws (L.D. 1168).

* Remove the “good moral character” requirement to receive a concealed weapons permit (L.D. 1176).

* Eliminate the concealed-weapons permitting process and allow anyone to conceal their weapon legally (L.D. 1232).

State Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, the sponsor of L.D. 1232, said gun laws do not increase safety.

“Criminals are criminals; they are already going to disobey the laws,” he said. “Restrictive gun laws will never make anyone safer.”

Jonathan Yellowbear of Litchfield cited the U.S. and Maine constitutions in his testimony in support of several measures.

“If there were more law-abiding citizens able to carry concealed weapons, uninhibited, there would be less victims of violent crimes within this state,” he said.

But Cathie Whittenburg of the Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence said lawmakers should make it harder, not easier, to bring loaded, hidden guns into public.

She cited U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote for the majority in the recent District of Columbia v. Heller opinion.

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited,” she said, quoting Scalia. “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, said he sponsored the bill to allow concealed weapons at the State House because “it’s the right thing to do at a time with so much national and state turmoil.

“We have an open security threat, and we must address it,” he said.

Throughout this session, legislative leaders have been working on a plan to increase State House security, to address safety concerns, but have yet to adopt any changes.

Peter Gore of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Curtis Picard of the Maine Merchants Association testified against L.D. 35, which would prevent employers from prohibiting workers with concealed weapons permits from keeping hidden firearms locked in their cars, and L.D. 658, which they said would limit employers’ ability to restrict firearms.

Gore said he has received more calls from business owners regarding those bills than on any other bills he has testified on this session.

“Many employers have initiated no-weapons policies,” he said, with concerns for potential liability.

“Employees are the employer’s responsibility when they are at work. Each bill, we believe, interferes with the management ability of employers to handle their workplaces the best ways they see fit,” Gore said.

Maine State Police Lt. David Bowler testified against several of the concealed-permit measures on behalf of the state Department of Public Safety, as did a lobbyist for the Maine Municipal Association.

One measure that went before the committee Monday would increase gun restrictions. Sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, L.D. 578 would allow Maine cities and towns to restrict the carrying of firearms in essential municipal offices.

The bill was opposed by Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, and a representative from Gov. Paul LePage’s office.

The committee is scheduled to discuss the bills Friday morning.

Rebekah Metzler — 620-7016

[email protected]

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