AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday he would not sign a bill that would make it legal for adults older than 21 to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.

LePage, in a telephone interview with Ric Tyler and George Hale of radio station WVOM, said he opposes an age restriction added to the bill by the Maine House of Representatives on Monday.

When asked by the hosts if he would sign the bill when it reaches his desk, LePage said, “No.”

“The reason why is in my office I have a picture of Wade Slack, who got killed in Afghanistan protecting the freedom of the American people and he was only 19,” LePage said. “I think it’s wrong to send our kids over to fight wars at 18, 19 and 20, but they can’t carry when they come home. I’m not buying into that.”

But according to Slack’s obituary, he was 21 when he lost his life serving in the Army in Afghanistan.

LePage did not say whether he would veto the bill, which could become law without his signature if the House and Senate agree on a final version.

LePage said he supports “constitutional carry,” or the right for law-abiding citizens to carry a concealed handgun without a permit, but does not support the age restriction.

The bill, LD 652, sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, has cleared initial hurdles in both the House and Senate, but a vote on the bill, with the age restriction in it, was tabled in the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House on Monday by an 83-62 vote. The amendment also gained the support of 81 House members. The bill is the culmination of a decades-long effort by gun rights advocates to remove restrictions on lawful gun owners and followed a 21-14 vote in state Senate in late May that also removed the permit requirement.

The House also added a provision to the bill requiring any person carrying a concealed weapon to disclose that fact to law enforcement during a traffic stop or other encounter with the law.

The bill allows any person older than 21 who is not otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm under state or federal law to carry a concealed handgun in Maine without a permit.

Current law requires those wishing to carry a concealed handgun to apply for a permit with state or local law enforcement or municipal officials. That permit also requires that the individual clear a criminal background check and an in-state check of mental health records.

The current permit law also requires an applicant provide proof of gun-safety training for an applicant. The law also allows for a subjective decision by the issuing agency as to whether the applicant possesses upstanding “moral character.”

Another setback for the bill came Tuesday when the gun-rights group, the Maine Gun Owners Association, which also supports the concept of constitutional carry, issued a statement expressing concern that training requirements for handgun users who want to carry concealed would be eliminated under the measure.

Jeff Weinstein, Maine Gun Owners Association president, said in a prepared statement that training for those who want to carry a concealed handgun is paramount.

“Of major concern is the elimination of any educational requirements pertaining to basic gun safety,” Weinstein said. “The gun safety message is especially important where a gun owner has children at home.”

Weinstein’s group previously advocated for training and arming willing teachers in public schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012.

Weinstein said without training requirements, his group would oppose the bill.

“I advise the Legislature and/or Gov. LePage to consider either not enacting the bill or amending it further to reinstate mandatory gun safety and legal education,” Weinstein said. “Failure to do so may see this bill actually enabling some people needlessly getting hurt.”

It is unclear when the Senate will next vote on the bill.

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.