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Maine House Approves Concealed Weapons Bill
03/12/2012   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

The Maine House today gave initial approval to a bill that would allow certain state workers to store concealed weapons in their cars while parked on state property--as long as the cars are locked. The law would apply only to state workers who hold a concealed weapons permit. Most of the debate on the House floor centered not around the need for the bill, but around the issue of fairness.

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Last year, the Maine Legislature passed a bill that gave private-sector workers with concealed weapons permits the ability to bring their guns to work -- as long as they left them locked up in their cars. But that privilege -- considered by supporters an extension of the consitutional right to bear arms -- was not extended to state workers.

State Rep. David Burns, a Whiting Republican, is among those who say that LD 1603 will remedy that disparity. "I don't give up--and neither does any other state employee give up--those constituional rights just because I become a state employee and I shouldn't be asked to," Burns said. "But the way the law reads right now, and the way the restrictions state employees are under right now, they have to give up that right that we have afforded to every other private citizen."

State Rep. Gary Plummer, a Republican who co-chairs the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, explained why he decided to join with other GOP members of the panel in supporting the bill.

"It seemed to many of us that this was just affirming rights that people do have," Plummer said. "The majority of the committee certainly agreed. This is only in publicly-owned--state-owned--parking lots and it only applies to those people who have been vetted through the concealed firearms permit."

Some Democratic opponents have cited high-profile workplace shootings to make their case against the bill, but with little traction. For Democratic state Rep. Bruce MacDonald, of Boothbay, the concern has more to do with guns being stolen from vehicles.

"So I would suggest to you that we're taking a reckless step in essentially allowing firearms in vehicles, which it gives us a comfort to think about that they're locked," MacDonald said. "But in fact, if the thief wants to get into your car, they can get into your car very easily."

State Rep. Lance Harvell, a Farmington Republican, took issue with that argument. "The logic seems to be that because our weapon could be stolen that we should acquiesce to the thief, rather than the citizen," Harvell said. "If a car thief can break into you car in 20 seconds, I suggest that with a rock I can get into your house a lot faster. But no one is suggesting that our 2nd Amendment rights be violated because out houses can be broke into. But now we're suggesting it because our cars can be broke into."

For some House members, the debate centers around protection of the Maine Constitution. Among them is state Rep. Beth O'Connor, a Berwick Republican. "I know I took a sworn oath to uphold that Constitution and it says the right to bear arms shall never be questioned," O'Connor said.

But state Rep. Anne Haskell, a Portland Democrat with a concealed weapons permit, says the 2nd Amendment does not extend to giving citizens permission to bring guns into court houses, or into the State House. "While this a 2nd Amendment issue, our 2nd Amendment rights are limited--they've been limited by the courts and they're limited by some of the comments that have already been made," Haskell said.

Additional votes on the measure are expected in both the Maine House and Senate.



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