Maine's concealed weapons permit applications rise with nation's violence
Rockland — The recent rash of violent crimes and shootings across the nation has prompted residents to consider their Second Amendment Right to bear arms, according to local law enforcement officials.
Residents in Maine are turning out to submit applications for concealed weapons permits, and while it is against the law to ask an applicant why he or she wants the permit, people offer their answers in casual conversations, officials said.
"Sales are good," said Jennifer Johnson, co-owner of Johnson's Sporting Goods on Park Street in Rockland. "People are buying before they're told they can't get a gun."
To put the situation in perspective, Stuart Sylvester, city clerk of Rockland, said there is no such thing as gun registration in Maine — only permits to carry concealed weapons.
Municipal police departments manage permit applications within their communities.
Rockland Deputy Police Chief Wallace Tower said firearms permit applications increased from 22 issued in 2011 to 37 concealed weapons in 2012.
“A lot are renewals,” Tower said. “A permit is good for four years.”
Tower said the police department conducts background checks for criminal histories of applicants, their mental health or their character.
Thomaston Police Chief Kevin Haj said his department has seen an increase of about 20 permits from new applicants this year.
“We’re not allowed to ask why they’re getting the permits,” Haj said. “But in casual conversation, we learn they’re afraid they’re going to lose their [Second Amendment] rights.”
Communities without police departments rely on Maine State Police to conduct the background checks and to issue permits.
In Owls Head, which has no police department, selectmen sign off on permit applications of local residents before returning applications to the state police, said Selectman Linda Post.
“They ask us to respond to their findings if we know of any reason why an individual may not be allowed a permit,” Post said. “Most of the ones I’ve dealt with have been renewals.”
Warren chooses to conduct its own background checks, despite the lack of a local police department, said Selectman Douglas Pope. Last year the town took the procedure back from Maine State Police, he added.
“They have to go though our office. We do the background checks as required, the mental health check, driving infractions, sex offender lists — we’re very careful,” Pope said.
“There are an awful lot of permits, but mostly what we see are renewals,” he said. "It’s anybody’s right to have a concealed weapons permit. I don't have a [concealed weapons] permit, but I do have firearms."
“I think that people with concealed weapons permits are pretty safe people," Pope added, referring to exacting questions on the application.
What is not known generally is that all carriers of concealed weapons in Maine have to take a handgun safety course, according to Officer James Jillson of Rockland Police Department.
Jillson, a 30-year veteran of the police force, teaches a handgun safety course designed by National Rifle Association.
“It’s something I do on my own," he said, adding teaching the course is not part of his job as a police officer.
Students take the one-day course, which costs $75 for tuition and includes a written test that indicates completion, before going to a shooting range to qualify with the weapon.
“It’s required proof of handgun safety,” Jillson said of the course.
“Last year I had 89 students,” Jillson said. “This year, so far, I’ve had 25.”
While the course applies to concealed weapons, Maine does have an open-carry law, allowing hunters to carry their rifles and shotguns along roads while hunting wild game, or carrying a handgun openly in a holster on a gun belt. People do not need a permit to carry the gun openly, provided it’s not loaded.
Meanwhile, applications are going up.
State police are receiving between 100 and 150 applications for permits per day, according to Lt. Scott Ireland, commander of the Special Investigation Unit for Maine State Police. Most of those applications are for new permits, not renewals, he said.
“The state has 25,000 active permits,” Ireland said. "The applications are following a political and national trend."
Jillson said there is a backlog of requests. The 10-page application from the state police is available on the Internet, and may be retrieved immediately. But the process of approval takes up to 120 days because of time demands, he said.
"One of my former students had applied and waited for weeks," he said. "They're stalking the state for permits because they don't want their rights infringed upon."
"Each time something happens, there's a knee-jerk reaction," he said of purchasing weapons following mass shootings.
The application itself has questions about one's previous life, including refusals, revocations or suspensions to carry concealed firearms and age of the applicant.
The state wants to know whether there are formal charges pending against the applicant for a crime in state or federal court, that might be punishable for up to a year in prison, any charges under the laws of Native American tribes, a history of crime violence and any crime committed using a firearm.
The applicant has to say whether he or she has outstanding juvenile offenses that might be considered crimes if they were adults.
Other questions are if the applicant is a fugitive from justice, a drug abuser, drug addict or drug dependent person, and whether the applicant has a mental disorder that might make him or her dangerous.
Finally, the state authorizes Riverview Psychiatric Center and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center of the Department of Health and Human Services to disclose any record of commitment to either institution.
The applicant signs off with an understanding that the answers to all questions are confidential, according to the application form.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or email@example.com.