Political analysts and former state senators Ethan Strimling and Phil Harriman discuss whether it’s a good idea to loosen rules for carrying concealed weapons.

Phil: OK, Strim, even though 96 legislators have co-sponsored the bill (L.D. 652) to eliminate the need for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, I’m officially undecided as to whether I would testify for or against at the bill’s public hearing in front of the Criminal Justice Committee at 1 p.m. Wednesday. Being the thoughtful and open-minded analyst that you are, I graciously offer you this column to convince me why I should vote no.

Ethan: Because a “yes” vote would allow people who have never had a background check or taken a gun safety course to enter almost every business or residence in the state with a loaded gun hidden in their pocket. Need I say more?

Phil: I understand the thinking behind the permit process, but, like it or not, that revered document called the Constitution protects our ability to carry a gun.

Ethan: Antonin Scalia, the most conservative constitutionalist on the Supreme Court, writing for the majority, said, “(The Second Amendment) is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” He then added that a “prohibition on carrying concealed weapons” is absolutely constitutional. As with most amendments to the Constitution, you are allowed reasonable restrictions to keep our citizens safe and even Scalia says restricting concealed carry falls into that category.

Phil: How refreshing and hopeful that a devout progressive, government-knows-best guy turns to an archconservative for guidance. While the court obviously dictates that we can “regulate” guns, Maine law affirms that it’s “legal” to carry a weapon that is not concealed. Please tell us why a permitless exposed gun should be legal, but that same gun should become illegal the moment that someone puts on a sweater that covers it?

Ethan: Lots of reasons. First and foremost, the latest polling shows a whopping 84 percent of Maine people want the law to remain in place.

Phil: I didn’t think 84 percent of Maine people could agree on what the weather was yesterday.

Ethan: Exactly. But on this they do. I suspect the near-unanimous support is because this is fundamentally an issue of safety. Let’s say I am a bartender. Am I safer knowing or not knowing that you have a gun before I serve you another drink? What if I am a bank teller or a taxi driver? What if I am a parent and both of us have kids in the same day care? Am I more able to protect my child when I don’t know that you take a loaded gun into her classroom?

Phil: But if I have a permit to carry concealed, you also won’t know, since my gun would be hidden.

Ethan: True, because in the crazy paranoia of the last Legislature, they eliminated that public document from public viewing.

Phil: Yes, you and I agreed that was a bad move. But, I assume the person you are fearing walking into your day care with a loaded gun is someone you don’t know. A simple list of names of who has a permit won’t change that.

Ethan: True, but here’s the most important issue. In order to get a permit, you must submit an application with a copy of your birth certificate and proof that you have completed a handgun safety course. The police then will run a background check, call the two state mental health hospitals, and consider any knowledge they might have regarding your “good moral character.”

Phil: Will they take into account that time in high school when I skipped math, rendering me incompetent to calculate grains, calibers, feet-per-second and windage?

Ethan: “Feet-per-second and windage”? Were they planning to throw you out of an airplane?

Phil: That’s why I skipped!

Ethan: But, as you see, to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon is a pretty serious process. And they re-check you every four years to make sure you still meet the requirements. That means we all feel a lot less insecure about who may or may not have a concealed weapon, because we know they have taken a course that has taught them how to handle a gun safely and they understand the consequences, both legal and moral, of shooting a gun in public. In fact, I’ll bet people with concealed-carry permits commit fewer gun crimes than those who don’t have permits, thanks to how strong our process is for getting that permit.

Phil: Actually, nearly all of us don’t commit crimes. The so-called “1 percenters” who commit brutal assault with knives, vehicles, poisons or guns are statistically minuscule compared to the rest of us.

Ethan: True, but far and away the weapon of choice for “brutal assault” is a gun. Guns are used in murders six times as often as knives. Poison? Less than 10 times. Vehicles? Please. I’d gladly take the permitting process for driving a car in exchange for our current process for carrying a gun.

Phil: Would you agree your real fears are realized when criminals or people with a mental health diagnosis grip a weapon without a background check?

Ethan: No doubt. Keeping guns out of the hands of people who are a clear danger to themselves or others is the top priority. I am also concerned about accidents and crimes of passion, but we can leave that for another day.

Phil: Then we agree that gun laws should be focused primarily on criminals and people coping with mental health challenges. Let’s identify them and prevent them from buying guns and ammunition.

Ethan: I’m in. And that’s why the permit process for concealed carry is so important. Right now, it is legal in Maine to buy a gun with no criminal background check and no mental health check. The permit process corrects that failure.

Phil: So, what if the Legislature passed a comprehensive, no-loophole background check as part of the permit repeal?

Ethan: I still would want local law enforcement to know who is concealing a weapon while walking down the streets of Portland or Yarmouth, but your answer would certainly be better. That said, you’ll need to talk to the 96 legislative sponsors, as I don’t think they are interested.

Phil: I’ll send them this column.

Phil Harriman is a former Republican state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling is a former Democratic state senator from Portland. They can be contacted on Facebook at Agree to Disagree or Twitter: @senpeh and @ethan6_2.

 


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