February 27, 2013

GEORGE SMITH: Get rid of concealed weapons permits; they're worthless anyway

George Smith

Wrong target! Legislators, who are peering through their scopes at law-abiding citizens who have permits to carry concealed weapons instead of aiming their legislative weaponry at criminals, are doing nothing to reduce violence in our state.

The dust-up about attempts to acquire the names and addresses of those who have permits indicates broad misunderstanding of the steps that ought to be taken to address the problem of violent crime. We haven't even begun that legislative debate, and we're already off course.

Instead of voting to keep the names of permit holders secret, the Legislature should repeal the requirement of a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Then lawmakers can get serious about the steps that can be taken to reduce violence.

I'm sure the Bangor Daily News, when it requested the names and addresses of permit holders, didn't intend to provoke an angry statewide debate. I'm sort of glad this happened, however, because we've needed action on concealed permits for a long time.

And, to be accurate, the law calls them "concealed carry permits."

In order to carry a loaded firearm in a concealed manner, you must have a permit. The State Police issues permits for more than 300 small towns, while larger towns and cities issue the permits at the local level.

The Legislature has had many opportunities to protect the names and addresses of permit holders but failed to do so. It's ironic that now that someone has asked for those names, we've gotten into a frenzy to protect them.

The real issue, however, is the permit requirement itself. For years, I tried to convince legislators to repeal the law requiring permits to carry weapons in a concealed manner. The concealed carry permit system is illogical, expensive and a waste of time and resources.

Criminals must be laughing at us now. They don't bother to get permits in order to conceal the weapons they carry. Law enforcement officers know this. They are trained to assume that everyone they approach has a concealed weapon.

Yet police agencies always opposed my bill, insisting that their officers need to know who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. They don't know that, however, because the permit information is not in a central database and readily available to police officers. Nor should it be.

If you want to focus public scrutiny on a group of people, it ought to be the bad guys, not the good guys.

The permit system is expensive and time-consuming for both applicants and the issuing authority. The State Police have four people working on this. And the permit system does absolutely nothing to deter crime or reduce violence. Worse, it may be preventing some law-abiding citizens who are afraid for their lives from carrying concealed weapons, putting them in mortal danger.

Imagine yourself in this scenario. Your husband has been abusing you and your kids. In a drunken rage one night, he pulls out his gun and threatens to kill you.

You calm him and escape the situation and then call the police. They arrive and arrest your husband. While he is in jail, you decide to take action to protect yourself when he gets out.

You know the police can never get to your home or work place in time to protect you if your husband returns with a gun. It won't matter to him that he doesn't have a concealed carry permit. So you take one of his small handguns, go with a friend to the shooting range for some instructions, and call the State Police for a concealed carry permit. You want to have this gun with you, wherever you go, loaded and concealed, for your personal protection.

Alas, the State Police say that your application can't be acted upon for three or four months because there are 2,500 applications ahead of yours. By then, you and your kids might be dead.

That, my friends, is why this concealed carry permit system must be repealed.

If the Maine Legislature can act so quickly to protect the names and addresses of permit holders, surely it can act as quickly to protect Maine citizens who need to carry loaded firearms to protect themselves and their kids -- without having to obtain a worthless piece of paper called a concealed carry permit.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or georgesmithmai ne@gmail.com. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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