PORTLAND, Maine — A group of southern Maine police chiefs gathered Tuesday morning to oppose a bill that would allow most Mainers to carry concealed weapons without filing for a permit.

“We think this legislation is misguided and quite frankly a mistake,” said Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, flanked in a news conference by top cops from South Portland, Gorham, Freeport, Bath, Brunswick, Cumberland, Falmouth, Scarborough, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.

The bill, LD 660, would repeal Maine’s laws preventing people from carrying concealed weapons without a permit to do so. The Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety has held two work sessions on the bill. No date has been set for consideration by the larger Legislature.

The legislation’s primary sponsor, Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying constitutional carry laws, similar to the one he’s proposing, have been passed in eight other states.

He noted last month during testimony before the criminal justice committee that Mainers can already carry firearms openly without a permit. Individuals legally restricted from carrying weapons in any way, such as convicted felons, would still be restricted from doing so under Libby’s law.

“Criminals do not apply for a concealed handgun permit,” Libby said in a statement Tuesday. “Currently the state police and other authorities review thousands of applications every year, rejecting only a dozen of them on average. This takes precious resources away from the effort to combat the criminals who aren’t applying for them in the first place.

“Right now, law-abiding Mainers are being forced to wait up to six months in order to have the right to protect themselves,” he continued. “Lifting this regulation of our individual liberties would allow Mainers to fully realize their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

The chiefs gathered at the Portland Police Department Tuesday disagreed with that statement. Sauschuck countered that while Maine’s concealed weapon license laws could be made more effective through introduction of a central database of permits, for example, doing away with the laws entirely is “a bad idea,” he said.

“In the past few months, I’ve denied a dozen [concealed weapons permit applications],” said South Portland Police Chief Edward Googins. “It’s a very thorough process, and under this bill, all of those people who would have been denied permits would be walking around with concealed weapons.”

Sauschuck acknowledged Libby’s point that criminals would likely carry concealed weapons with or without permits, but he defended the system as a realistic way of “mitigating risk, not eliminating risk.”

“[The denial of a permit application] doesn’t mean they’re going to stop doing anything, but it gives us a legal recourse if we have an interaction with that person in the future,” he said. “It’s just ludicrous to me that we would give up any chance we have to review weapons permits.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.