AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has signaled his support for a constitutional challenge in California to repeal that state’s concealed handgun permit law.
LePage is one of six Republican governors who have signed an amicus brief on a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, according to a court filing dated April 30. The document calls on the federal appeals court to overturn a judgment in a lower court that upheld California’s concealed handgun permit law.
The other governors on the amicus brief are Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Greg Abbott of Texas. The document signals to the court that the governors support repeal and asks their argument be considered along with other testimony.
The move by LePage has some who oppose GOP efforts to abolish concealed handgun permits in Maine scratching their heads.
“We’ve had a concealed weapons permit law that’s been on the books here in Maine for 100 years,” said William Harwood, a board member for Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, who notified the BDN about the amicus brief. “It just seems like he’s off on a lark that doesn’t help the people of Maine.”
Tim Feeley, spokesman for Attorney General Janet Mills, said Mills was not consulted by the LePage administration, though “it could be argued that he should have done so.”
“Signing these amicus briefs takes minimal effort, entails no expense to the state, carries no legal burden for the state and does not necessarily reflect the position of the state’s legal officer,” Feeley said in a written statement.
According to the filing, LePage and the other governors indeed are trying to make an ideological point.
“Citizens in [the six governors’] states should not be forced to choose between exercising their constitutional rights to bear arms and their constitutional rights to travel to California,” reads the brief, which goes on to argue concealed handgun permit holders have been shown to be far less likely to commit crimes than others.
“Therefore, California’s ‘public safety’ concerns should be rejected as pretextual,” the brief reads.
LePage said through a spokeswoman Tuesday afternoon that California’s law, which requires individuals to prove their “good moral character” and that they have good cause to carry a firearm, violates potential gun owners’ constitutional rights.
“Maine’s motto is ‘I lead’ and the governor, feeling strongly about the rights of law-abiding gun owners, will take every opportunity to share with those in other states the freedoms that Mainers enjoy,” LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz wrote in response to questions from the BDN. “California’s law punishes law-abiding gun owners and is a clear violation of the constitutional rights of Californians.”
Rabinowitz said the amicus brief was filed by the state of Texas and no taxpayer dollars from Maine were involved in LePage’s participation.
An effort to repeal Maine’s concealed handgun permit law is under consideration in the Maine Legislature, but a majority of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted Friday to recommend against passage. The bill could overcome that recommendation when it goes for votes in the House and Senate, as it has more than 90 co-sponsors. According to Harwood, that’s far more support than any similar effort has garnered in Maine in recent memory.
“We have had proposals like this put forward in the Maine Legislature off and on for the past half a dozen years,” he said. “Those bills have quickly died in committee, and there’s been little support for them other than a small group of legislators who are closely aligned with the gun lobby. This bill is a substantial challenge to this law for the first time in years.”
Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, the primary sponsor of LD 652, which is Maine’s pending concealed handgun permit repeal bill, said the court case in California and LePage’s involvement in it are significant.
“The governor’s support is very helpful,” Brakey said. “This is one of those issues that it takes an idea coming forward several times before people begin to support it.”
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said support behind Brakey’s bill derives from last year’s election, which placed more Republicans in the Legislature and the ongoing national gun control debate.
“This is not a big surprise to me,” Trahan said. “It’s pretty clear to me that the governor is very supportive of this bill, but I don’t think it changes the debate in Maine very much. I think the ability for constitutional carry to pass is 50-50. It’s going to be a tough one.”