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Maine House Approves Concealed Weapons Confidentiality Bill
04/23/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

The debate over concealed weapons permits advanced a step in the Maine House today, where lawmakers approved changes that will shield most information about permit holders from the public. During a 90-minute floor debate, members argued over the merits of a competing plan that - with some exceptions - would have kept the names of permit holders in the public domain. But ultimately, a strong response from constituents back home was more persuasive. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Some lawmakers see the debate as a constitutional issue. Others see it as a public safety issue. But state Rep. Lisa Villa, a Harrison Democrat, says the message she and other legislators are getting from constituents is that it's really nobody's business who holds a concealed weapons permit in Maine.

"This bill is not about the right to own or carry a weapon," Villa said. "This bill is before the Judiciary Committee because it has to do with access to public information under Maine's Freedom of Access Act. FOAA was not intended to allow for the collection and publication of information of our law-abiding citizens."

Villa joined 106 of her House colleagues in approving a new concealed weapons permit law that will dramatically change the state's long-standing policy of making the names and addresses of permit holders accessible to the public.

If the Senate follows suit, those names will become confidential, although the bill will allow the release of statistical data on gun permits. Those data would include the number of permits issued and denied each year, and the names of the communities in which the permit holders reside.

The bill was developed after Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature imposed a moratorium on access to the permit holders' names in the aftermath of a Freedom of Access request by the Bangor Daily News. The issue prompted protests outside the paper's offices, and the Judiciary Committee hearing on the ensuing bill attracted 100 concerned Mainers.

"Just because we have 100 people come to a hearing does not mean they are the majority," said state Rep. Matthew Moonen.

Moonen, a Portland Democrat, was among the minority of lawmakers who want to keep the names of permit holders public. He and others in the House supported an alternative report that was backed by only three of the Judiciary Committee's 13 members.

The committee's co-chair Rep. Charles Priest, a Brunswick Democrat, says his plan would exempt permit applications submitted by law enforcement officials, judges and some others, and would also allow those in fear of their own safety to file an affidavit requesting that their identities be shielded. The names of all other permit holders would be accessible to the public.

"To make all concealed weapons permits secret means that you can never find out if a convicted felon has gotten his permit revoked, or that a person has just had a protection from harassment order issued against them has their concealed weapons permit revoked," Priest said. "To make all concealed weapons permits secret means that you place all your trust in the police and the issuing authorities, who may be municipal officers with no ability to verify."

But state Rep. Corey Wilson, an Augusta Republican, rose in opposition. Wilson, an original sponsor of the concealed wapons bill, said Priest's measure would be more costly to taxpayers, and provide fewer protections to those who require confidentiality.

"LD 345's intent was to ensure the confidentiality of all concealed handgun permit holders, whereas failing to keep the information confidential poses a serious threat to their life and safety," Wilson said. "The intent was to protect everyone, including victims of rape and domestic violence, police officers and judges. And with all due respect to the good representative from Brunswick, the proposed amendment does none of that."

The House voted 111-35 against the alternative plan, and overwhelmingly supported the majority report. Should the Senate give similar approval to the bill this week, it could become law with the governor's signature by the end of the month - when the current moratorium on access to the names of permit holders expires.


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