Firearms civil liberties are advancing, both here in Maine and elsewhere.

As was widely reported, a bill to allow Mainers not otherwise prohibited by law to carry concealed weapons without a permit initially passed both the Maine Senate and House by substantial margins.

Its proponents call it “constitutional carry,” because when the Bill of Rights was passed, no American needed government permission to own or carry a firearm.

Maine is one of many states where carrying a gun openly does not require a permit. Residents who want permits still could get them, in order to carry legally in other states where they are recognized.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, was amended this week to lower its minimum age from 21 to 18 for active service members or honorably discharged veterans (the lower age continues to apply for permit holders). Permit holders also are exempted from the bill’s requirement to inform police of concealed firearms possession during face-to-face interactions.

Because the bill has a fiscal impact (from the loss of permit fees and three positions), it must be vetted by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee before it goes to Gov. Paul LePage. He is expected to approve it, his office says.


Brakey’s bill doesn’t alter current locations where carrying is banned, such as bars, schools or other government buildings, or the categories of those not permitted to own firearms, such as felons and the mentally ill.

It doesn’t bring back the Wild West, either, despite the dire warnings from anti-Second Amendment activists that gun battles will break out on our streets.

If that were true, the five states where such permitless concealed carry is currently legal would resemble combat zones.

And they don’t. When you think about places where people shoot each other on a regular basis, you don’t think about Alaska, Wyoming (for residents only), Arkansas, Arizona and Vermont as being violent places. (Kansas becomes No. 6 on that list on July 1.)

As Rep. Karen Gerrish, R-Lebanon, has said, “As we all know, criminals do not care about rules of law. They are not going through any background checks, taking gun safety classes or going through any permitting process. Bad people will always do bad things. The permit system does not stop criminals from carrying guns.”

Although some local police chiefs opposed the bill, Maj. Christopher Grotton of the Maine State Police supported it, calling the current system “ineffective” because almost everyone who applied for a permit was deemed eligible to have one.


Efforts by out-of-state gun control groups to influence the vote may have backfired: “Maine people don’t like it when money and power coming from out of state tries to influence their decision-making,” said former legislator David Trahan, head of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

And certainly anyone choosing to carry a gun should be fully knowledgeable about its use — but that’s part of being a responsible adult, not something government officials have to verify. Chainsaws are potentially hazardous for untrained people, but the answer is for their users to learn safe practices, not issue state licenses for them.

In addition, there’s progress elsewhere:

• If a law widely supported in Congress ever passes (which would require a different president), all permits must be recognized by all other states, just like drivers’ licenses, although each state’s laws covering conditions for carrying would apply within its borders.

After all, driving is only a privilege, but gun ownership is a right.

• Texas just passed laws to permit the open carry of firearms, which has long been illegal there, and to allow carrying guns on college campuses, formerly “gun-free” zones that only turn occupants into defenseless targets.


Many state restrictions date back to the Jim Crow era, when whites wanted to disarm former slaves. It’s good to see more of those laws being repealed.

• States vary between “may-issue” status, which gives law enforcement authorities wide discretion about granting permits (which in practice usually favors only politicians’ cronies), and “shall-issue” rules, where permits may be denied only for specific legal reasons.

And the situation in Washington, D.C., one of the nation’s most restrictive may-issue jurisdictions, is changing: On May 18, federal District Judge Frederick J. Scullin issued an injunction against the city’s permit law, and last week he refused to stay his order, pending hearings next month.

How offensive is the District’s law? It now issues permits solely to people who provide “documentation” of specific threats against their persons. That leaves all other residents open to attack by any criminal.

Constitutional carry laws are pending in other states, with their outcomes cloudy at this point. But with Maine, Kansas, Texas and the District of Columbia moving forward, liberty is clearly on the upswing.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. Email at: [email protected].

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