The Universal Notebook: Concealed carry follies

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Gun control is one of those issues, like abortion, about which people tend to want all or nothing, when what is really needed are reasonable limitations.

Recently, for instance, in a display of double-barreled Republican firepower, state Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn and our pistol-packing Gov. Paul LePage teamed up to try to get rid of restrictions on carrying a concealed weapon.

Brakey introduced a bill to repeal the requirement that you get a permit if you want to carry a concealed weapon and to legalize carrying a loaded gun in your car. LePage signed on to an amicus brief with the Republican governors of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota and Oklahoma in a case that seeks to repeal California’s handgun permit law.

The governors’ argument goes that “citizens in the Amici Governors’ states should not be forced to choose between exercising their constitutional rights to bear arms and exercising their constitutional rights to travel to California.”

Really? That’s an issue? Mainers can’t pack heat in California?

Some 36,000 people already hold concealed weapons permits in Maine, 12,000 of whom are from out-of-state. Maine has reciprocal agreements to honor concealed handgun permits with Delaware, South Dakota, Louisiana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Apparently, someone thought armed tourists would be a good idea?

The governors’ amicus brief argues that concealed handgun license holders are disproportionately less likely to commit crimes, therefore California’s public safety concerns are unfounded.

But don’t you suppose the fact that people have to be approved to get a concealed carry permit has something to do with their good conduct record? If every Bud Weiser in Maine could legally stuff a piece in his pants, as the Brakey bill contemplates, I have a sneaking suspicion the safety record might get shot full of holes.

While people licensed to carry guns may be less likely to commit crimes, a University of Pennsylvania study found that assault victims who were carrying guns were 4.5 times more likely to be shot than those who were not, and 4.2 times more likely to be killed.

The trouble with carrying a gun is that sooner or later you are going to be tempted to use it, potentially turning what should have been a fist fight into a homicide and a murder conviction.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, people who live in homes where guns are present are more likely to become victims of gun violence – suicides, accidents, crimes – than people who live in homes without guns. That may be one reason why gun ownership in America is on the decline, down to 22 percent from close to 32 percent in 1985.

To get a concealed weapon permit in Maine, you apply to the Maine State Police or your local police department. You have to present a birth certificate, driver’s license, auto registration and proof of passing a handgun safety course, pay $35 and answer 32 questions about your criminal background and mental health. If you pass the criminal and mental health background check, you get a permit. To object to this permitting process is to place individual liberty above public safety.

In California, you have to demonstrate “good cause” for carrying a concealed weapon. Sounds reasonable to me. I’d like to see that standard in Maine. The Republican governors, however, argue that no one should have to show cause for exercising a constitutional right, confusing in their absolutism the right to bear arms with the right to carry a concealed handgun.

Personally, I have no problem with responsible, law-abiding adults being issued permits to carry a concealed weapon, but I see no reason to allow every Tom, Dick and Mary to walk around with a concealed weapon without a permit. Fortunately, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee rejected Brakey’s bill and it is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled House.

The right to bear arms is not absolute. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that limitations may be placed on the ownership and use of firearms to ensure public safety. Individuals and organizations that refuse to acknowledge any limitations on the Second Amendment are complicit in the epidemic of gun violence that plagues the United States.

Yet even in the wake of mass killings such as Columbine and Sandy Hook, we seem unable and unwilling to enact reasonable gun-control measures, such as background checks on all gun sales.

With efforts to make it easier for people to carry concealed handguns, we are slipping ever backward into the lawless past.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.