A legislative committee is tackling a long list of proposed changes to Maine’s gun laws this week, and most Mainers must be asking themselves why.

Among the 50 states, Maine consistently has one of the lowest violent crime rates. And while any figures about the level of gun ownership would be conjecture because there is no registration requirement here, Maine takes among the most permissive positions on gun regulation and has a long tradition of hunting and self-protection with firearms.

You can argue all day how these two facts are related: Is crime low here because we own so many guns, or is it due to other factors such as our aging population or the lack of warring gangs. But you don’t have to settle the argument to determine one thing — something is working.

We don’t have the problems that would logically lead to changes in state law to overhaul the rules about the types of guns that can be sold or the places that they can be carried. But that is not stopping activists from pushing for changes that could upset what appears to be a successful balancing act.

A handful of bills that are scheduled for consideration by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee would do just that.

Several of the bills attack the concealed weapons permit statute; L.D. 1176 would drop “good moral character” from the short list of qualifications for a permit, L.D. 658 would reduce fees and increase the duration of permits, and L.D. 1232 would get rid of the permits all together and let anyone who wants to carry a gun.


Other bills would allow permit holders to take concealed weapons into the State House, or take them to work. Still others would exempt some Maine-made firearms from federal laws if they are sold in state.

With all these suggestions on the table, you would think that there is some huge problem in Maine that requires radical action. But by all available information, gun ownership is high and crime is low, and the sponsors of these pieces of legislation cannot show that there are either excessive restrictions on gun owners rights or a burgeoning crime problem that calls for drastic measures.

Instead, these appear to be ideologically driven measures that are less motivated by self-protection or crime reduction than they are by winning ground in a national fight between gun rights groups and those that support gun control.

In Maine, the gun-rights supporters have long had the upper hand. Long before the U.S. Supreme Court found that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual right to gun ownership, the state amended its Constitution to make clear that was the law here. “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned,” the state Constitution reads, and that leaves little room for interpretation.

But even that doesn’t preclude some resolable limits.

As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in D.C. vs. Heller, the decision that knocked down Washington D.C.’s restrictive gun control law:

“Like most rights, the 2nd Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the amendment or state analogues. The court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

With all the economic problems the state now faces, the Legislature should not spend any more time than necessary on ideological battles about issues that have little real impact on the state.

The Criminal Justice Committee should dispose of these bills and retain a system for permitting the concealed carry of firearms, which, for the most part, appears to be working very well.

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