LD 222: New Changes Proposed to Concealed Carry Permit System
An Interview with Maine State House Representative Tim Marks
Tim Marks is a member of the Maine House of Representatives from District 53, representing Alna, Dresden, Pittston and Wiscasset. He serves on the Joint Committee for Criminal Justice and Public Safety and the Joint Committee for Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Rep. Marks is a retired Maine State Trooper with 25 years of service.
Gun Owners of Maine: Your original bill, LD 222, introduced last session, would have made the State Police the sole issuing authority for Concealed Handgun Permits in the state, and removed that authority from the municipalities. Both the State Police and the Maine Municipal Association testified in opposition to that proposal. That bill has been held over into this session. I wonder if you could tell us a little about your plans for LD 222.
Rep. Tim Marks: It has been worked and reworked, and we voted on it a week or so ago. We still have a few things, we’re holding it, there are a couple of things we’re still working on. One is the money, if there’s going to be a fiscal note or not.
We are going to take municipal offices, selectmen and town councillors out of the equation; they’re not going to be issuing permits any more. We found over the summer that the State Police did a study and found that many of them aren’t doing the background checks for the mental health checks, so that’s unacceptable.
The way it’s morphed is, all the of police departments, the major cities and towns that have a police department, can issue their own. The State Police will be doing all the background checks, and all the the criminal record checks and mental health checks. So, the way the process will go is, if you say, live in Augusta, and you want a permit for the first time, you go to Augusta and you grab an application and fill it out. Augusta will take it and send it to the State Police, who will do the required background checks, the criminal record check and the mental health check through NICS. Once that is completed, the State Police will send it back to Augusta and say you may issue if you want to, and Augusta will look at it, the Chief and the department, and will say “this guy is a good guy, good moral character”, or “no, we have issues with this guy, and we decided not to”.
So, the State Police will be the repository for all all permits, because right now, they’re spread out over 200 different places and there’s no one place to go for a police officer to check the validity of a permit, which has always been a problem. The repository will be confidential and not available to the public, of course, it’ll only be law enforcement. The State Police will continue to do all unorganized territories and towns that don’t have a police department.
The permit itself will have a standard form; right now they are blue paper, plastic, some have pictures, some don’t. It’s going to be just like your driver’s license, same color, shape and material, and you can even have your drivers license picture on it. So it’s going to be a very good quality piece of identification for you. Maybe you might be going for a job or something, and you slide that across the table and say “I’ve already had a criminal records check and a mental health check through the State Police”, and you’re already halfway vetted; you know you’re not dealing with a felon or a prohibited person or someone deemed by the courts to be mentally unfit, so it’ll be very valuable. Also, if you’re a permit holder, and you’re wearing a gun and you get stopped, and you don’t have your permit with you, it’s always been a problem for police -- what do you do, do you arrest the guy for carrying concealed, or do you take him for his word that he’s got a permit? They’ll be able to check it right there, from the cruiser on the mobile data terminal, that yes, this guy has a valid permit, you’re all set. It’ll benefit everybody.
And a couple more things. As far as reciprocity, with other states: When we put pictures on them, we make them uniform, we have a live database, we’ll be eligible for reciprocity with more states. So if you’re a permit holder, you’ll be able to carry in more states. And one glaring problem that we had was out-of-state people who got a Maine permit, not only because it was cheaper, but they couldn’t get one in their own state because they’re prohibited. In Maine, as you can imagine, it’s difficult to do a background or mental health check on somebody from another state; you don’t even know where to start to vet that. So if Maine didn’t find anything there, they’d issue. We had gang members in Chicago, Illinois that had Maine permits in their pocket where Chicago would not issue them a permit. So the new rule will be if you want a Maine permit and you’re from out-of-state, show us your out-of-state permit first, and then we’ll issue.
GOME: The State Police recently cleared a large backlog of CHP applications, in which processing times were exceeding 150 days, far in excess of the statutory 30-day limit. Couldn’t a centralized system also form a bottleneck that would affect all CHP holders and applicants statewide?
TM: I don’t think so, because the State was checking with Dorothea Dix and Riverview, which have streamlined their process, and they’re turning those check around weekly.The courts are now sending judicial findings of mental incompetence to the State Bureau of Identification, and SBI forwards them to NICS, and that’s where it’s a simple click of a mouse. The State Police have done a great job of catching up, with extra people in there to do that.
GOME: Would you favor controls on how LE can access the CHP database, for example prohibiting automatic CHP lookups during 10-27 license checks?
TM: We haven’t talked about that; it would only be accessible by law enforcement, and law enforcement is restricted in the same was as they are with criminal history checks. So driver’s license information -- when I was a trooper, I couldn’t give you a criminal history or a driver history on somebody else. If you wanted it, you’d have to go to SBI and request it yourself, and there’s only certain things that are public, some things aren’t public. Convictions are public, but charges pending and charges that were dismissed aren’t public. So, police are already restricted as far as what they can give to somebody else. Police, on a simple 10-27, currently they have access to, is this person a gang member, is this person wanted, is this person on the terrorist watch list, is this person suspended, does this person have a protection order out against them. That stuff’s already there, and it’s kept within the police; police are not allowed to disseminate that.
GOME: The concern here is that you have an individual who has a permit -- maybe they’re armed, maybe they’re not; during a routine stop, the officer might be informed, routinely, that the person holds a Concealed Handgun Permit, and the officer might treat that citizen differently from a hit that came back with no CHP. Do you think that is something that should be restricted, or do you feel that is an appropriate piece of information for law enforcement officers to have?
TM: Personally, if that was to happen to me, I would look at that person as, hey, this person has already been vetted, he’s already been checked. The police don’t have access to mental health records, but when a person has a permit, you know this guys has not been found to be mentally incompetent. To me, it raises you one step above the average citizen who has not been vetted. you know, how many of your neighbors have had this criminal record and mental health check done on them. I see it as a positive thing, not as a negative thing. A police officer, if he saw that, I don’t see how that would affect negatively; I can only see it as a positive thing.
Representative Marks also spoke briefly about two other aspects of LD 222 which are not yet worked out. First, that country sheriffs are being considered to be granted authority to issue permits. It is not yet clear whether the sheriffs would wish to accept this new duty. Second, that increasing the term of the permit is being considered, both to the benefit the citizen with less frequent renewals and to reduce the workload needed to renew permits.
The permit fee woud probably be increased to account for the longer permit term.
In summary, the new LD 222 would:
Todd Tolhurst is a licensed firearms dealer, NRA certified pistol instructor, and member of the Board of Directors of the Gun Owners of Maine, Inc.