AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are trying to decide whether to pull the trigger on a measure that would allow 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to carry concealed handguns. The age limit is 21.
Sponsor Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, told colleagues that “questions of age are beside the point” because every law-abiding Mainer has a legal right to carry a gun at age 18. The only question, he said, is whether that person can also wear a jacket that hides it.
The National Rifle Association backs Brakey’s controversial bill, calling it “common-sense legislation which restores fairness to all individuals who choose to carry a concealed firearm for self-defense.”
But there’s considerable opposition to the idea.
“Eighteen-year-olds are not grown-ups, not adults,” said Peter Michaud, associate general counsel of the Maine Medical Association. “They think they are, but they’re not. An 18-year-old is an adolescent.”
The president of the Maine Psychological Association, Elise Magnuson, said her group has “concerns about shifting the age downward” given research that shows an 18-year-old’s brain is still developing.
“The parts of the brain responsible for impulse control and planning ahead are among the last to mature, so the ability to make measured decisions can be compromised,” she told a legislative committee.
Magnuson noted that “adolescents may be at their peak of physical strength, health and mental capacity, but it is a hazardous time of life” when people are more likely to make risky, ill-considered choices.
Peter Fromuth, a lawyer from Yarmouth, pointed out that firearm injuries are the second-largest cause of death among American children.
“We desperately need a social policy that will support young people as they make the transition from late teens to adults,” he said. “This bill is dangerously counterproductive and harmful to the safety of the public, law enforcement and young gun owners themselves.”
“Brain science tells us that our teenagers and young adults are not all ready for this responsibility,” said Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children’s Alliance.
“Many 18-year-olds do not have the capacity to reason and measure risks or understand long-term consequences,” she said, adding that “easily placing a firearm into the hands of a young person can have disastrous consequences.”
“Let’s make sure the law protects them from taking actions they will regret,” Berkowitz said.
One of Brakey’s constituents, Julie Fralich of New Gloucester, told lawmakers she’s never heard anyone complain that young adults can’t carry concealed weapons.
“I find the need to file a bill, hold a hearing and even have a debate over whether young people should carry a concealed weapon to be a tremendous waste of time and money,” Fralich said.
She said she fears “that allowing the use of concealed handguns by younger adults could result in unintended and yet disastrous consequences.”
Patrick Eisenhart of Augusta, a former paratrooper, said lowering the age without requiring training or a background check is a poor idea.
“How sad such a dangerous bill to the health and welfare of our kids is proposed by the Senate chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Brakey,” he said.
“From my perspective, this bill is characteristic of so many libertarian strategies we hear in the media today aimed at tearing at the very fiber of our government and the health and welfare of society in general,” Eisenhart said.
Sheriff Wayne Gallant of Oxford County, president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, said the state’s sheriffs opted to take no stand on the proposal.
He said those against it cited research that brains aren’t full developed until the early 20s and even those who back it recommend “mandating some type of firearms safety course” for young adults who want to carry concealed firearms.
But proponents said the opposition misses one key point: that 18-year-olds are already free to carry guns.
Todd Tolhurst of China, president of Gun Owners of Maine, said the decision to bar concealed carry for those 18 to 21 who weren’t in the military or honorably discharged was “an illogical restriction” from the start.
“There is little reason to believe that permitting them to wear a jacket over a handgun is a responsibility that only those over 21 may successfully shoulder,” he said.
Tolhurst said laws “already recognize that young adults are capable of carrying handguns, openly and concealed. A special carve-out stripping rights available to every other adult from this age group is unjustifiable, and accomplishes exactly nothing.”
The Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety plans a work session on the measure Friday.