Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, left, and South Portland Chief Ed Googins at a press conference today.
"Point blank, this is a bad piece of legislation, and one that I don't support," said Portland police Chief Michael Sauschuck at a news conference Tuesday.
Sauschuck says according to a survey by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, the overwhelming majority of law enforcement professionals in the state do not support the bill.
"The process that we currently have in place allows to run a background check on an applicant," Sauschuck said. "That background check would look at criminal history, would also look at mental health commitments within the state of Maine, primarily at Riverview and Spring Harbor."
The current system, he says, also requires that applicants undergo firearms training before being granted a concealed weapons permit. He admits the current system under which the permits are issued and renewed is not perfect - for one thing law enforcement officials have complained that it's not easy to quickly access up-to-date mental information on people.
"But to eliminate that process in general is a disservice to the citizens of the state of Maine, and certainly to the safety of our law enforcements officers that are out there on the street," Sauschuck said.
"Article One, Section 16 of the Maine Constitution says the right to keep and bear arms shall never be questioned," says Rep. Aaron Libby. "So if we make a person get a permit to carry a gun underneath their jacket, obviously that's questioning their ability to carry."
Libby (right), a Waterboro Republican, is sponsor of LD 660, which is currently being reviewed by the Legislature's Criminal Justice Committee. He says his prosposal is not about who carries a gun, but how it's carried.
"So right now, Maine, we're an open-carry state, so you can walk right down the street with a 9-millimeter on your side and you're perfectly abiding all the laws. But as soon as your jacket covers that gun, you're now a criminal," Libby says.
Libby issued a statement following the police chiefs' press conference, pointing out that five states - including Vermont - have adopted so-called "constitutional carry" laws. He argues that these laws actually make life easier and less burdensome for law enforcement officers because criminals don't apply for concealed weapons permits.
In his statement, Libby says the state police and other authorities review thousands of applications every year, and reject only about a dozen of them, on average. Doing away with the whole process, he says, would enable police to put more effort into fighting crime.
That's not how South Portland police chief Ed Googins views it. Speaking at the press conference, he said his department has denied a dozen concealed weapon's permit applications just in the last few months, for a variety of reasons, from mental health issues to applicants being in violation of the law.
"It's a very thorough process, and to just throw that out the door just does not make sense," Googins said. "Now, there may be some communities in which the rate is less than that, but it's pretty alarming that a dozen folks in just the past few months that have been denied, could - if this passes - now carry concealed."
Googins says his department processes about half-a-dozen concealed weapons permit requests per week, and has issued about 450 permits to a community of 24,000 people.
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, meanwhile, makes the point that if a Mainer is denied a concealed weapons permit, there is nothing to stop that person buying a firearm privately, with no background check and no training requirement, and owning it legally - as long as they don't conceal it. And that, he says, is a situation that he personally is not very happy about.
News conference photos: Tom Porter