AUGUSTA — Following the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice in Virginia, two state representatives from the Lakes Region asked Maine’s governor to allow legislators who have a concealed carry permit to carry firearms at the state Capitol complex in Augusta.
In separate letters on the day of the Virginia shooting, June 14, Reps. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, and Lester Ordway, R-Standish, asked Gov. Paul LePage to take executive action to let legislators carry guns on capitol complex grounds if they hold a concealed carry permit.
“Due to this tragic event, it is my hope that as Chief Executive of the State of Maine, you will use your executive power to allow legislators who are concealed carry permit holders to possess their firearm on the State Capitol Complex,” read an identical sentence in both Cebra and Ordway’s letters. State Rep. Matt Harrington, R-Sanford, also sent a similar letter. All three letters were posted on Facebook.
Each of the legislators referenced Article 1, Section 16 of the Maine State Constitution, which states, “every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.” Despite that provision, Capitol area security rules prohibit anyone except on-duty police officers from carrying firearms or other weapons on the capitol complex.
The Legislature’s executive director, Grant Pennoyer, said by phone that any changes to State House security rules would need to go through the Legislature’s Executive Council, though he noted that the council’s authority applies only to the State House itself and not other parts of the complex such as the Cross State Office Building. Currently, visitors must go through security to get into the State House but not the Cross building.
Pennoyer said he was unsure if their were other avenues for the governor to potentially allow legislators with permits to carry concealed weapons on the grounds.
“If an outright executive order is not possible, I ask that you deputize those members who are trained concealed carry permit holders so they may protect themselves,” Cebra said in his letter.
Cebra has also introduced legislation to allow guns on all campuses in the University of Maine system.
In an interview, Ordway expanded on the reasoning behind his letter. He noted that, short of deputizing individual lawmakers, the governor may not have the power to issue a blanket executive order allowing all legislators with concealed carry permits to have firearms at the State House.
“It was just a reaction to what happened in Virginia. And we’ve had some incidents at the State House where disgruntled constituents have come in and made some threats,” Ordway explained. “And then we found out that the governor really can’t, short of deputizing, and I don’t think he’s up to that.”
LePage said last week that he was considering carrying a firearm after the shooting in Virginia. His communications director, Peter Steele, told the Sun Journal last week that LePage is a “strong supporter of the Second Amendment” and “not opposed to concealed carry in the State House.” The governor’s office did not respond to an inquiry about Cebra’s deputizing suggestion.
Ordway, who said he does have a concealed carry permit and would have no hesitation carrying a firearm at the capitol, also said that any concealed carry permit holder should fundamentally be allowed to carry on capitol grounds – not just legislators.
“It’s just a fundamental constitutional right to bear arms question for me,” Ordway said in an interview after the annual Standish Town Meeting last Saturday. “The knee-jerk reaction that we put out, it should have included everybody. It should have included everybody that has some training and the right to carry.”
“In this day and age, you just never know,” Ordway continued. “And when somebody starts shooting people over politics – politics is nasty enough, and that shooting down in Virginia was driven by politics … We’ve lost civility, a lot of civility in this country.”
Ordway said that he “absolutely” agrees with the longstanding prohibition on individuals with mental illness and violent felons from possessing guns, and acknowledged than some of his colleagues would likely have concerns about legislators carrying guns at the State House.
Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, said he is also a concealed carry permit holder, but he isn’t sold on the idea of legislators bringing guns to work at the Capitol complex.
“If we start letting guns in there, there’s a downside to that – and that is, some of the folks are armed and some of them aren’t. And I think it’s kind of a chilling effect,” Diamond said Saturday morning after the annual Windham Town Meeting.
Diamond and Ordway attended the Standish Town Meeting earlier that morning together with Rep. Jonathan Kinney, R-Limington, to present retiring Town Manager Gordy Billington with a flag that was flown over the State House.
As for Diamond’s take on the deputizing idea?
“Deputizing legislators to carry a gun, I think that’s really going out on a limb here, maybe far reaching, and I’m not sure we want to get into that,” Diamond continued. “Who do you deputize, and who do you not deputize? There’s a whole bunch of folks, including me, that have concealed weapon permits, so do you deputize all of them? That to me is a far reach that I’m not sure is needed.”
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Maine State House