Guns everywhere, except Augusta

Maine legislators work in a high-risk environment. Their work can be rife with conflict, so it is only right that efforts are made to keep them out of harm’s way. Hence, the State House is one of the few places where one may not carry a weapon.

But wait. Haven’t we heard from the lips of those very legislators that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun? So how come the good guys can’t have guns in the State House? If safety depends on all of us being armed to the teeth, legislators are sitting ducks.

Yes, there are security forces at the entrance and metal detectors to make sure the prohibition on guns is enforced. But you just never know.

Suppose someone’s concealed weapon is detected at security screening? An armed battle could break out then and there, and all the good guys? No guns.

One hundred and ten legislators voted for concealed carry with no permits because it makes us so much safer and because it is our right. But that rationale took a back seat when it came to their own workplace.

They easily could have allowed concealed carry in the State House, making them every bit as safe as it is, say, at the Northgate Shopping Plaza where Portland police reportedly apprehended a gun-toting shopper just three days before the no-permit concealed carry law took effect. He had a handgun painted pink, reportedly to make it look like a toy. Apparently a grown man carrying a pink handgun also aroused suspicion.

One hundred and ten legislators fought for our right to carry a concealed weapon anytime, almost anywhere, with no gun training and no background check. Isn’t it inconsistent, to put it charitably, to insist that universal concealed carry will make us all safer but then allow a prohibition on guns in legislators’ own work space? How is it that allowing guns in the State House would make legislators less safe, but allowing guns everywhere else makes us safer?

A small number of institutions, including schools, courts and the Capitol Area, are off limits when it comes to weapons. The Blaine House, home to the governor who signed the bill to allow permit-less concealed carry? No weapons allowed.

The Capitol Area includes the State House, Blaine House, District Court, and “any other state controlled locations, whether its [sic] owned, leased or just used by the state within the city limits of Augusta.”

That area is defined and regulated by administrative rule of the Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Capitol Security. Chapter 41 establishes the security rules. In addition to regulating demonstrations, protecting the shrubbery and requiring pets to be restrained, it prohibits “firearms, dangerous weapons, explosives, incendiary devices” or other implements “capable of being used to destroy or injure a person or property in the Capitol Area.”

The legislature has authority over the rulemaking process, and in their enthusiasm for gun “rights,” easily could have applied what is good for us geese to their own little ganders and removed the restriction on weapons at the State House. They didn’t. Legislators are paying plenty for this protection. Those security guards and metal detectors are not free.

In preparation for the upcoming second year of the 127th Legislature, legislators have submitted 400 bills for consideration. Only emergency legislation and bills of a financial nature are permitted this year, and all bills must be approved for admission by the Legislative Council.

Six of the bills to be reviewed by the council have to do with concealed weapons or possession or sale of weapons. Only bill titles are available at this point, but it appears that Senator Eric Brakey, flush with his success in eliminating the requirement for concealed carry permits, is pressing for even more safety with a bill to “eliminate the disclosure requirement for a person carrying a concealed handgun without a permit.” It’s just one of the 17 emergency bills the senator is hoping to press this winter.

Rep. Roberta Beavers is making a move in the opposite direction with an “act to require background checks for private sales or transfers of firearms.” Currently, some sales require background checks, some don’t. The other four bills address safety aspects of firearms possession, or so the titles say.

The definition of “emergency” is in the eye of Legislative Council beholders, but since the make-up of the council is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats this session, every bill admitted must receive bipartisan support.

Citizens of Maine are pushing back. Signature gathering has begun for an initiative to require background checks on all gun sales except those within a family. If the required signatures are collected, the question will go to the 2016 ballot. It will generate a massive debate and buckets of pre-election spending, much of it coming from out of state.

Maine legislators have decided that a gun-free environment is safest for them. How about the rest of us?

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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