Gov. Paul LePage signed a historic bill Wednesday that will allow residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit, making Maine the fifth US state to explicitly vote to do so.
The law will be restricted to those aged 21 and over, except for military personnel at least 18 years old. Maine’s concealed-carry permit system will remain for now, but residents can opt out until the law goes into effect sometime after lawmakers adjourn later this month. Under the state’s current system, residents have to pay a fee, pass a background check, and demonstrate knowledge of handgun safety.
Gun rights advocates, who have long argued that the permit requirement serves as little more than ineffective bureaucracy, celebrated its removal.
"I often get asked the question that by passing this bill will Maine become the new Wild West?" Eric Brakey, the Republican senator who chiefly sponsored the bill, said to The Portland Press Herald. "You can open carry in Maine now. All this does is allow open carry gun owners to put a jacket on."
Several other states are grappling with similar gun restrictions. For the first time in more than two decades, there are more Americans calling for gun rights than gun control, according to a Pew Research Center report from April. In their survey, 52 percent of respondents said that protecting the right to own a gun was more important than regulating gun owners.
A Republican tidal victory in last year’s November elections allowed for the issue of gun permits to be revived in several state legislatures, reported The Washington Post. Governors in Montana and West Virginia said no to gun reform legislation in March, and in neighboring New Hampshire, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a similar bill on Monday.
Opponents of the permit removal in Maine had included several prominent law enforcement groups, including the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Maine Sheriff's Association. Across the state, ads urging lawmakers to kill the bill ran on TV, radio, and web, paid for by Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun-control group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"It's mind boggling to me," Kristen Kucera, a resident of North Yarmouth and a member of the Maine chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told the AP. "As a concerned mom, I just can't understand why they would put our kids in jeopardy like this."
Some argue that the consequences of restrictive gun laws are exemplified by stories like Carol Bowne’s, a New Jersey woman who was found murdered by her ex-boyfriend in June. Fearing for her life, Ms. Bowne had submitted a request for a gun permit months before – prompting criticism that easier access to a gun may have saved her life.
Maine joins several other states in eliminating permits for concealed carry, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wyoming. Additionally, concealed carry is permitted in Idaho and Montana outside of city limits.
This report contains material from The Associated Press.