Maine legislators weighing whether it should be legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit should take a minute to review the murder conviction of Merrill Kimball last week in Portland.

Kimball, 72, is facing a minimum of 25 years in prison — effectively, a life sentence — for using a handgun in what he claimed was self-defense. Kimball, a younger and stronger man, was trying to take property, 70 pounds of honey, that he thought belonged to his family, and Leon Kelley, a younger stronger man, got in is way.

When the North Yarmouth confrontation became heated, Kimball believed that he had justification to fire his gun. A jury disagreed.

Every criminal case is based on a particular set of facts, and no one who hasn’t heard all the evidence should second-guess a jury. But one inescapable observation can be made about this incident: If Kimball had left his gun at home, this would have been a very different story.

Kimball would probably not have taken the disputed honey, and may have faced criminal charges of robbery. He might have suffered some bruises — or maybe just a bruised ego. The family bee farm might have lost a few thousand dollars worth of stock.

Instead, Kelley is dead, Kimball is going to prison for the rest of his life and two families will never be the same.

At least in this case, having a firearm did not protect Kimball or his family. In fact, it made a bad situation much worse. Kimball had a right to own a firearm, and he was legally permitted to carry a concealed weapon. But he would have been much safer if he hadn’t been armed.

If lawmakers relax Maine’s already-permissive concealed-carry law, there will probably be more people with hidden guns in the community and more judgments made in an instant – with consequences that are lifelong.

Guns are used in 68 percent of homicides, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, claiming 11,000 lives in 2010. That year firearms were used in 19,300 suicides, making up about half of all suicide deaths. Pulling a trigger in a moment of despair gives no chance for second thoughts.

Hundreds more people die from being unintentionally shot or accidentally shoot themselves. And for every death, there are thousands of injuries.

Having more guns circulating in public makes all of these occurrences more likely. Some argue that allowing permitless carry would deter crime, and in some cases, they might be right. But that wasn’t the case for Merrill Kimball.

We are not questioning the right to bear arms, but we do question the wisdom of a public policy that would put more concealed weapons on the street and multiply the chance of tragic events.

Under current law, an applicant only has to pass a background check and a firearm safety course. That does not seem too much to ask.

The North Yarmouth case shows how easily guns that are bought for protection can backfire, and how an excessive concern for safety can be a very dangerous thing.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial transposed the names of the antagonists in the 2013 North Yarmouth confrontation that ended with Merrill Kimball shooting Leon Kelley to death. It was an editorial writer’s error.


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