AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- There was a big turnout of gun rights supporters in Augusta on Wednesday for a Legislative hearing on a bill that would eliminate the law that requires permits for concealed weapons.
Plenty of opponents also turned out to argue that the permits should sta, because the background checks and training requirement provide an extra margin of safety. Supporters, who call the issue "Constitutional Carry," argued that the current law makes no sense.
"We have a right to carry openly most anywhere but the minute we put a jacket on we're breaking the law," said Mike Travers.
It's already legal in Maine to carry a gun that isn't hidden, commonly called "open carry." Existing law said a person needs a permit from their local or state police to carry a gun that's hidden.
Maine's had a concealed carry law for many years, but constitutional carry supporters don't like it. Some said it infringes on their rights under the U.S. or Maine constitutions. Bill sponsor Sen. Eric Brakey said people can face long delays before receiving a permit.
"When someone with a credible death threat against them has to wait for months before they can carry legally and defend themselves with their jacket on, that says it not working," he said.
The Constitutional carry issue has come up before and been defeated. The difference this year is that Republicans, who tend to be more forceful advocates of gun rights, control the Senate and have just a 10-vote gap in the House. Brakey said he has support in both parties for Constitutional Carry. Opponents of the change, however, suggest there isn't as much backing for the law as the sponsor believes.
"If this bill passes you could have people who are criminals, people who don't know how to handle a firearm, never had safety training, those are the kind of people you'd have walking around with a loaded gun," said Wayne RIchardson, who has had a concealed carry permit for many years.
Police from several communities spoke out against the proposal in Portland Wednesday morning. Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck spoke on behalf of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce spoke on behalf of the Sheriff's Association. They said the concealed weapons permitting process is one of the only opportunities law enforcement has to evaluate a person's criminal history before allowing them to carry a concealed gun.
"I think that the state of Maine is governed by common sense, blue collar approaches," said Sauschuck. "The reasonableness factor is very high in general in the state of Maine, so I think that common sense would say, 'Why wouldn't we have some kind of a permitting process before allowing somebody to conceal a firearm in our community?'"
The Maine State Police announced they now support constitutional carry, because of what they say are so many problems and inconsistencies with the existing la and Maine would be better off without it.
"The existence of a concealed handgun permit does nothing to alter the ability to purchase or to possess and carry a firearm," said Major Chris Grotton, who testified before lawmakers Wednesday. "The only thing the permit does is determine whether someone can put a jacket on over that firearm."
Grotton said State Police want to work with lawmakers to make some changes to the bill that would help to keep law enforcement safe.
Four other states, including Vermont, already allow "Constitutional Carry."