AUGUSTA — Concealed-weapon permit holders could carry guns into the State House, the connected Cross Building and nearby parking lots under a bill endorsed by a legislative panel on Friday.

Firearms, concealed or carried openly, have been banned for decades from those areas and surrounding state-owned property.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 7-4 to approve the measure, L.D. 932, sponsored by state Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon.

One Democrat, state Rep. Stephen Hanley, D-Gardiner, voted with committee Republicans in favor of the bill, according to the committee clerk.

Two members, one Democrat and one Republican, were not present for the vote.

“In the people’s house, I feel very strongly they have this right to exercise under the both United States and the Maine constitutions,” said state Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, prior to the vote.

Several Democrats on the committee expressed strong disapproval.

“I don’t think it says anything in any constitution about carrying concealed weapons,” said state Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick.

“I think this is extremely ill-advised. I think we’ve got a long history of not shooting each other up here.”

State Rep. Anna Blodgett, D-Augusta, said legislators usually propose laws to fix problems, but said she does not see any issue that needs to be remedied.

“I feel perfectly safe here, and I think I would feel less safe if we didn’t know who was here packing heat,” Blodgett said.

The proposal, which still faces votes by the full Legislature, comes at a time when legislative leaders are moving toward increased building security.

Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin said weapons-screening equipment is scheduled for installation in the coming weeks, at the request of legislative leadership. It will depend on the legislative budget how often the equipment will be manned by Capitol security.

For months, the Legislative Council, which controls State House building policy, has been studying ways to make the building more secure.

The screening equipment was purchased years ago with a homeland security grant from the federal government after 9/11 but never installed.

“Increased security has been a topic and it will continue to be a topic, and we are absolutely not shying away from it,” said Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, R-Sanford, a member of the council.

Courtney declined to weigh in on the committee vote on concealed weapons until he had a chance to review the measure.

“You can’t bring guns into the U.S. Capitol and you can’t bring them into a school. We have children in our Capitol all the time,” he said. “I think in that context, I want to take a good look at the committee report and we’ll discuss it in caucus.”

Gauvin said Capitol police have discovered visitors carrying weapons in the State House over the years.

“It happens fairly regularly,” he said, adding that because there is no screening process, it’s unclear exactly how often the policy is violated.

Gov. Paul LePage’s office declined to comment on the committee vote.

The governor’s office, located on the second floor of the State House, recently added a uniformed state trooper at its entrance, based on increased safety concerns.

Rebekah Metzler — 620-7016

[email protected]

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