Maine has the chance to lead on gun rights

About 150 people turn out for a rally organized by the Maine Gun Rights Coalition in March 2013 in Wiscasset.  BDN photo by Christopher Cousins.

About 150 people turn out for a rally organized by the Maine Gun Rights Coalition in March 2013 in Wiscasset. BDN photo by Christopher Cousins.

In the coming days, as many Mainers scramble to finalize their tax returns, the Legislature will begin debating what has already become one of the most bipartisan bills of the session. Sponsored by freshman Republican Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn, this legislation seeks to bring constitutional carry (already the law in Vermont) to Maine. Currently, if one wishes to carry a concealed firearm in Maine, one needs to apply for a permit to do so, through either the Maine State Police or your local police department. This bill would repeal that requirement, allowing anyone who can legally purchase a firearm to carry it concealed if they so choose.

At first glance, it might seem that this bill would be a thoroughly partisan exercise. However, Maine has a bipartisan tradition of full-throated support for the Second Amendment. Brakey has assembled an impressive list of cosponsors, including Democrats like House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan and longtime former Speaker of the House John Martin of Eagle Lake — who, to his credit, has always been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

This marks a sharp turnaround from last session, when Democrats (including then-Senate President Justin Alfond) sponsored a raft of gun control measures. At the time, it seemed as though a major effort to limit gun rights might have legs in Maine and that the issue would become more partisan here, as it has elsewhere in the country.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case; instead, we will be debating an expansion of gun rights. The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing on constitutional carry on Wednesday, April 8. All of this bipartisan support doesn’t mean the legislation will have smooth sailing, of course. Even after last year’s elections, there are still too many gun control proponents in the Legislature, and they will fight this tooth and nail at every step of the way.

They’ll claim that more criminals will have guns, somehow. This argument makes little sense on its face, of course: criminals tend not to bother with applying for government permission to commit a felony. That won’t stop them, however. Nor will the fact that even though Vermont has constitutional carry, it has a similarly low crime rate as Maine.

They’ll try and make the argument that more people will be carrying guns around in more places, even though guns will remain barred in all the same places they are right now. Private businesses will still be free to bar firearms with or without constitutional carry.

They’ll say that constitutional carry will somehow make it easier for criminals to get guns, when the bill doesn’t affect the purchase of firearms at all. If you can’t pass a background check to buy a gun now, you won’t be able to pass one with constitutional carry either. If you can buy a gun illegally now, constitutional carry won’t make that any easier.

The arguments against constitutional carry are red herrings designed to scare people into letting government take away their rights. Under the current system, each local police department (or, where there isn’t one, the state police) handle the issuance of concealed carry permits, meaning that getting a concealed carry permit can often take an unreasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, in this case, unnecessary delays might very well put someone’s life in danger.

It’s high time in this state that we start treating adults like adults and trusting them to exercise their own rights responsibly. The right to bear arms is enshrined in both the Maine and U.S. constitutions. We need to start treating concealed carry as another aspect of the right to bear arms, just as anonymous speech is an aspect of the right to freedom of speech. We need to start believing in personal responsibility, rather than pandering to the fear instilled in us by those who want to control our lives.

Maine has the chance to be a national leader in expanding gun rights. Let’s not throw that opportunity away.

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.