At first glance, New England—the original home of the liberal East Coast elite—seems like it would make rocky ground for Second Amendment seeds. Yet the surprising and welcome truth is that gun rights are thriving in parts of the region. Vermont, just about the bluest state out there, has long distinguished itself by its refusal to require permits for handguns. The right to carry, open or concealed, is enshrined in the state constitution and legal precedent. While we most often speak of “permitless” or “constitutional” carry, “Vermont carry” was, for a long time, the more common nomenclature.
And it appears that surrounding states have been catching Vermont envy. The New Hampshire House and Senate handily passed SB 116, stating that no permit is to be required for concealed carry of a loaded firearm. Unlicensed open carry is already legal, and you can carry an unloaded firearm concealed—although we’re not sure why you’d want to. Unfortunately, Gov. Maggie Hassan has announced her intention to veto the bill and so far does not appear to be backing down. That leaves another Vermont neighbor, Maine, to carry the torch.
Last week the Maine House passed LD 652 in a vote of 87-60; it had already been approved by the Senate. This bill states that all adults 21 and older who are not legally prohibited from owning a firearm may carry concealed without having to apply for a permit. The permit process—which consists of a background test, a licensing fee and an official judgment of “good character”—serves as a deterrent to many law-abiding citizens who simply don’t feel they have the time or money to bother. It should also not be forgotten that sometimes you can’t wait to arm yourself—a lesson tragically illustrated by the murder of a New Jersey woman last week who was unable to acquire a pistol permit in time.
Maine residents are already able to open carry without a license, so it makes sense to further deregulate their Second Amendment rights. As in other states that have passed permitless carry, the concealed carry permit system remains intact, and individuals have the incentive to still apply in order to take advantage of the reciprocity agreements with other states. What this bill does is to open legal concealed carry to the poor, the threatened—in other words, the vulnerable among us.
There was a moment of shock for supporters of LD 652 when Maine Gov. Paul LePage, usually considered pro-gun, announced that he would consider vetoing the bill. Was all of this build-up going to end in a replay of New Hampshire? As it turned out, the issue was the “21 and over” clause. LePage was unwilling to sign into law any gun bill that did not apply to all adult members of the military. A late amendment was added with broad bipartisan support to extend permitless carry rights to service men and women of the age of 18 and above. There now appears to be no obstacle to the signing of LD 652 into law.
As we have covered before on this site, permitless concealed carry is gaining momentum and has the weight of common sense behind it, but it is still widely misunderstood. Our hope is that the successful passage of bills in legislatures across the nation—not just in the heartland, but also in the bright blue states of New England—will persuade more Americans to view the issue rationally and to get on board. Vermont was once alone in carrying this particular torch for the Second Amendment; now the fire is catching.