By Judith Meyer
On April 25, Maine joined at least 25 other states in making concealed carry permits confidential governmental records.
The very next day, Gov. Paul LePage signed the controversial Freedom of Access Act exception into law. Concealed carry permits are now the only state-required, state-issued, state-managed and state-enforced permit issued for personal use in Maine.
In addition to this new public records exception, the emergency law also requires the Department of Public Safety to create a central database of concealed carry permit holders for use by law enforcement, which is a shift from record keeping of the past, where records were maintained by the issuing authorities in various municipalities.
The decision swaying votes in both the House and Senate to conceal the concealed carry permits was based, in large part, on the number of people who testified at the public hearing on the bill. There were 32, a vast majority of whom were in support of confidentiality.
While the lopsided testimony was impressive if we just look at the numbers, if we look at the content of much of that testimony the strength of the testimony quickly fades.
For instance, many of those who appeared before the Judiciary Committee argued that the public record status of concealed carry permits was unconstitutional. It is not, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Many others argued that gun owners’ lives and properties were in danger by the public record status of these permits, despite the fact that these documents have been public since 1981 and there is not a single instance of a Mainer being threatened or injured, or of property being damaged to stolen.
Others testified that they would never have applied for a concealed carry permit had they known it would be a public record, despite the fact that the application carries a bold-face disclaimer just above the signature line that the permit is a public record once issued.
And others testified that the lives of domestic abuse victims would be particularly vulnerable if their abusers knew where they lived, despite the fact that Maine has an Address Confidentiality Program that allows these victims to apply for a “placeholder” address from the state for use in all governmental records to protect their actual residential address.
There was also considerable testimony of the worry about newspapers publishing lists of concealed carry permit holders, like the list published by The Journal News in New York that “resulted in the burglary of two homes.” The Journal News published a list, but that list was never connected to the burglary of any homes. That was a baseless myth unsupported by police investigations.
And — a favorite — there was testimony that there are already 483 FOAA exceptions in Maine so one more won’t hurt. While true that there are (at least) that many exceptions, this is the very first one that shields a government-issued permit for personal use that allows 30,000 citizens to do what 1.37 million other Mainers cannot — conceal a gun on their person.
So, while it was impressive that nearly all of the 32 people offering testimony at public hearing favored confidentiality of permits, much of that testimony was based on myth or unfounded fear.
And, the Maine Legislature lapped it up, despite the desperate floor arguments by a courageous few lawmakers for their peers to consider the facts.
Confidentiality of concealed carry permits, now incorporated in MRSA 25, Chapter 54, Section 2006, is a manifestation of fear and fiction. Not facts.
That’s a curious way to regulate we the people.
Judith Meyer is a law-abiding gun owner and a managing editor at the Sun Journal in Lewiston. She is a member of the Right to Know Advisory Committee, and vice president of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition.