Battle over constitutional carry may not yet be done

Senator Eric Brakey watches as Governor LePage signs constitutional carry into law. Photo by Jason Savage.

Senator Eric Brakey watches as Governor LePage signs constitutional carry into law. Photo by Jason Savage.

Gov. Paul LePage quietly signed one of the most controversial bills of the session into law this week, as he affixed his signature to LD 652, “An Act To Authorize the Carrying of Concealed Handguns without a Permit.” The bill, sponsored by first-term Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, did not follow an easy path through the legislative process. Though it was eventually endorsed by bipartisan majorities in both the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratically controlled House, it faced many amendments in both chambers, funding challenges and, once, even a threat from the governor.

Now, this legislation doesn’t simply repeal the permitting process for concealed carry: It leaves that process in place as an option. Also, those who were barred from getting concealed carry permits are still barred from carrying concealed, just as guns are not allowed in any new places. Amendments limited permitless concealed carry to those over the age of 21 (with an exception for combat veterans) and required additional safety information be given to those who purchase firearms.

Still, the legislation has angered liberal activists across the state, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ran ads opposing the legislation as it was working its way through the Legislature. He may have lost that round, but that campaign may have been but a preview of what’s yet to come. Bloomberg doesn’t like losing, and he especially hates to lose over a major bill like this in what he probably considers his own backyard. If he and his minions in Maine are truly outraged by this common-sense bipartisan bill, they may take the extraordinary step of preparing a people’s veto of the measure.

Just as citizens may initiate legislation, they may overturn legislation after it’s been passed as well. In order to take it to the ballot, they need to gather signatures equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election within 90 days of the legislative session being recessed. This isn’t an easy task — especially after the 2014 gubernatorial race, since the threshold has risen to more than 61,000 signatures. Still, it has been done successfully twice in recent years: In 2010, with Gov. John Baldacci’s tax reform plan, and in 2009, when the Legislature expanded marriage rights.

There are a number of reasons why a people’s veto of constitutional carry would be a much more significant challenge, however, even for such a well-financed group as Bloomberg’s. First of all, the number of signatures required has risen dramatically, and in an off-year with a late legislative adjournment, there is no statewide election when one can gather signatures at the polls. That would mean they’d have to go door-to-door to gather the signatures, which would be very difficult.

Moreover, if they did gather the signatures, the election would likely be held in November 2015, not during the higher-turnout 2016 presidential election cycle. The only other items on the ballot would be local races and referendums. A people’s veto of legislation this popular in rural Maine would be difficult at any time, but it would be especially tough in an off year.

So, if out-of-state special interests want to try and buy a people’s veto of one of the few major bipartisan accomplishments passed this session, they have every opportunity to do so. It will be difficult for them to gather the signatures, and they would then have a tough campaign, but those of us advocating for enhanced gun rights in Maine must not rest on our laurels. While the signing of this legislation was a great victory for the Second Amendment, the fight over this bill may not yet be complete; we should be prepared to defend it again in the fall at the ballot box.

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.