- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The Republican-controlled state Senate supported a proposal Thursday that would make Maine the sixth state in the country to allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit, sending the measure to the Democratic-led House.

The contentious bill has divided law enforcement officials in Maine and been targeted by gun control groups, who say the permit process is necessary to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals.

The Senate voted 21-14 to give initial approval to Sen. Eric Brakey’s bill. It faces further votes in both chambers.

A permit is currently mandated in Maine if the weapon is concealed, but not if it’s visible. Supporters of the measure say that the permitting process doesn’t deter criminals and that the measure would simply allow responsible gun owners to carry their weapon under a jacket.

“By erecting barriers to the legal right to bear arms, we disarm the very people who enhance public safety and empower those who are intent on committing a crime,” said Brakey, a Republican from Auburn.

Some Democratic lawmakers expressed concern that removing the permit requirement would result in fewer people completing gun safety courses. Some level of training is necessary to receive a permit, but the level of training varies greatly depending on where the permit is acquired. Others noted that several law enforcement agencies across the state are fiercely opposed to the bill.

“Their advice is not to let this bill see the light of day because it’s going to set our sportsmen and our gun owners backward not forward,” said Democratic Sen. San Gerzofky of Brunswick.

The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and the Maine chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have been running TV, radio and digital ads featuring law enforcement officials - including the executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association - that urge residents to convince their lawmakers to defeat the bill.

The Maine State Police supports the measure. Maj. Chris Grotton told lawmakers last month that the permit system is highly ineffective, noting that state police have denied less than 1/10 of 1 percent of the applications it has processed over the last four years.

Gov. Paul LePage has signaled in the past that he would support the effort and nearly 100 lawmakers from both parties - more than half the members of the Legislature - have signed on as co-sponsors. LePage has not said whether he would sign the bill, but in a veto letter regarding a separate bill last year said that studies show where there are more concealed handguns, there is less crime.


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