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Hearing on Maine Concealed Weapons Bill Draws Overflow Crowd
03/12/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Overflow crowds packed a legislative hearing room today to square off on a bill that shields the identities of Mainers holding concealed weapons permits. Public access to concealed weapons information has been temporarily suspended in Maine, and the debate pits gun rights activists against the public's right to know. A.J. Higgins reports.

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Hearing on Maine Concealed Weapons Bill Draws Over Listen

Rep. Corey Wilson

Rep. Corey Wilson makes his case for keepng the names of Maine's concealed weapons permits confidential.

State Rep. Corey Wilson says concealed weapons permit holders in Maine should be entitled to confidentiality under Maine law. And he made his case to members of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

"These individuals are not criminals, they are law-abiding citizens who have passed federal, state and local background checks every four years," Wilson said. 'They are not the individuals that we need to fear, and they should be protected. After all what is the point of having a concealed handguns permit if everybody knows that you have it."

Wilson's bill, supported by Gov. Paul LePage, would create an exemption under state law that currently requires the identities of concealed handgun permit holders to be made public. The bill was drafted in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. shootings, and in response to a request from the Bangor Daily News to police agencies seeking the names of concealed weapons permit holders in their communities.

The paper ultimately rescinded its request for the information, but by then lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were being deluged by constituents demanding action. A hearing on Wilson's bill was delayed, and action was postponed to provide a cooling-off period.

The Legislature and the governor endorsed a bill to exempt the names of concealed weapons permit holders from public disclosure until April 30, on the assumption that lawmakers should be able to act on Wilson's bill.

"For me, an important question is: Why do people need the information about people who have these permits?" said Sen. Gary Plummer.

Plummer, a co-sponsor on Wilson's bill, says the state already exempts retired police officers and victims of domestic violence. Plummer, a Windham Republican, says those same protections should be extended to all concealed weapons permit holders.

Plummer says the concealed weapon permits shouldn't be subject to the state's Freedom of Access Act. State Rep. Lisa Villa, a Harrison Democrat, agrees.

"Maine's Freedom of Access Act is intended to maximize transparency in government. FOAA was not intended to allow for the collection and publication of information on our law-abiding citizens," Villa said.

Supporters of the bill far outnumbered opponents at the hearing. Michael Mahoney is an Augusta lawyer representing 30 members of the Maine Press Association.

"Boiled down to its simplest terms, we believe that LD 345 proposes to give preferential treatment to a single class of permits in the state of Maine over dozens, if not hundreds, of other types of permits that are on file here at the state," Mahoney said. "These concealed handgun permits have been public now for over 32 years."

Speaking for the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, Suzanne Goucher said current law that provides access to the names of permit holders represents a valuable tool in achieving greater transparency in government.

"Are convicted felons being given permits?" Goucher asked. "Are permits being revoked after an OUI conviction while carrying as required by law? If this bill passes as written, we will never know the answer to those questions. Who will police the police? Every step our government takes toward confidentiality is a step away from freedom."

The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a work session on the bill for March 21st.

Photo by A.J. Higgins.


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