AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would allow Mainers older than 18 to carry a concealed handgun without a permit was rejected by the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Friday.

The bill, LD 652, gained the support of three Republicans while all seven Democrats on the panel opposed the measure. Three other Republicans, who are expected to file their votes by the end of the day on Monday, will likely back the bill, making the final vote 6-7, according to the proposal’s sponsor, Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn.

Brakey, who has 90 co-sponsors for the bill, which makes it legal for any person over the age of 18 who is not prohibited from possessing a handgun to carry one hidden on his or her person without a permit.

Current Maine law requires those seeking to carry a concealed handgun to first obtain a permit from the state police, a local police chief or another issuing authority, including in some cases boards of selectmen.

After the vote on Friday, Brakey said he’s confident the Republican-controlled Senate would reverse the committee’s decision, but the measure’s fate in the House, controlled by Democrats, was less certain, even though some Democrats in that chamber signed on as co-sponsors to his bill.

On Friday, Brakey also presented the committee with a petition with 500 signatures from “citizen co-sponsors” that he said signed up to support the bill after the committee tabled the measure just seven days ago.

But those voting against the measure said they didn’t believe removing the permit requirement, which also requires applicants to show they’ve attended handgun safety training, was in the best interests of public safety.

“I’m trying to grapple with what is the most comprehensive way to both preserve 2nd Amendment rights and individual and public safety,” said Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, a committee member who ultimately voted against the bill.

Chenette said he was still interested in trying to find a way to move forward but suggested a firearms safety course was an imperative for him before allowing a person to carry a hidden handgun in Maine.

Brakey’s bill created a divide between the Maine State Police, which supported the bill, and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Maine Sheriffs Association, which oppose the measure.

The bill’s next stop will be before the full Senate, where the committee’s recommendation to kill the bill could be supported or overturned.

In other business Friday, the committee also voted, 6-4, in favor of a bill that would make the Maine State Police the only issuing authority for a concealed handgun permit in Maine. That bill would also increase the fees for handgun permits and create a database of permit holders that could be accessed 24 hours a day by law enforcement officers throughout Maine.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.