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Maine Lawmakers Mull Plan to Repeal Workplace Gun Law
04/09/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

A legislative policy committee is considering a bill that would repeal a law enacted two years ago that permits certain employees to bring their guns to work. Proponents argued at the time that they shouldn't have to give up their rights under a concealed weapons permit when they go on the job. But employers are fighting back saying the law actually curbs their ability to restrict certain activities on their own property. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Two years ago, Mainers with concealed weapons permits pressed the Republican-controlled Maine Legislature to allow them to bring their guns to work - as long as the weapons remained locked in their vehicles in the company parking lot. The GOP majority complied.

There have been no reports of problems in the workplace since the law was passed. But Democrats like Sen. Stan Gerzovsky say the state shouldn't have to wait for a tragedy to take place before they correct what is essentially a bad law.

"If I owned a piece of property, if I owned a business, I make the rules - nobody else does," Gerzovsky said. "I don't think one right trumps another."

Gerzovsky's bill would repeal the two-year-old state law. The Brunswick Democrat, who serves as Senate chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee where the bill was heard, says he's tired of hearing proponents defend the current law by saying it's a Second Amendment issue.

"I have a problem with telling me, as a business owner, me as a property owner, what I can and can't do on my own property, what I will and will not accept on my own property," Gerzovsky said. "I think it's a property rights issue, and I'm sorry, I don't think it's a gun rights issue, I think it's a property issue. I bought the property, I own the property, I'm responsible for the property. I'm paying the insurances and all the other upkeep of the property. It's my issue."

Maine's business community is squarely behind Gerzovsky.

"I have testified countless times in my career with the chamber to the employers need and right to manage their work place in the manner that they feel works best for his or her business," said Peter Gore, of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Gore says employers want the current law, PL 393, repealed because their employees want to feel safe in the workplace.

"It is their business, and their employees are their responsibility while on the job," Gore said. "PL 393 interferes with that management ability and removes the critical element of control that employers had - and I repeat, had - when it came to the choice to mandate a no-weapons policy in their business to ensure a safe workplace."

Major employers, such as UNUM and the Maine Hospital Association, sent representatives to support repeal of the guns-at-work law. Bruce Lewis of Fairchild Semiconductor in South Portland said firearms inside vehicles while at work enhances the potential risk for workplace violence.

"If an employee is upset at work and not thinking clearly, the closer the firearm, the greater the likelihood that it could be used," Lewis said.

Concealed weapons have been a central theme in the debate over gun control. Last week, the Judiciary Committee voted 10 to 3 in favor of a bill that would keep a concealed weapon permit holder's name, date of birth and street address confidential and exempt from public.

The bill was fast-tracked through the Legislature in the aftermath of a request from the Bangor Daily News for the names of concealed weapon permit holder in Maine cities and towns. The bill would also require the state to maintain statistical aggregation of conceal-carry permits, including the number of permit applications, the number of permits issued, and the number refused or denied. Sen. David Burns said the bill represented a positive response to public concerns.

"This is something accomplishes two different goals: It protects those individuals who would choose to have concealed weapons permits, but it also gives us important information for the future, to know how the state stands as far as Second Amendment rights and what the statistical data is," Burns said.

The Judiciary Committee's bill could reach the House floor later this month.


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