LD 351 Allows Municipalities to Prohibit Weapons at Municipal Public Proceedings and Voting Places

LD 351 preserves local control by allowing each community to decide whether they want to allow or prohibit guns at the polls and municipal public proceedings. An exception is included for law enforcement officers.

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People carrying hidden, loaded handguns in public buildings create unnecessary risks of intentional or accidental shootings. State preemption laws threaten public safety because they mandate a one-size-fits-all approach to firearms regulation, and prevent local governments from implementing customized solutions to gun violence in their communities - including, where appropriate, restricting the carry of firearms in sensitive public spaces frequented by families and children, such as public buildings and meetings. In 2013, three people were killed by an enraged citizen at a town supervisors meeting in Pennsylvania.

This measure is such common sense that it has been independently introduced at least four times in recent memory. In 2011, a version was introduced by Sen. Katz, Sen. Dion, and Sen. Farnham. In 2013, it was introduced by Rep. Moonen. Most recently, Sen. Linda Baker (R-Topsham) presented the bill in 2015, where it passed the Senate but was defeated in the House.

On March 24, 2017, a majority of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee recommended the passage of LD 351. Despite the strong bi-partisan support, out-of-state interests like the NRA is trying to stop this bill when it comes to a floor vote. Maine has a long tradition of home rule and preserving local control and this bill has strong support from a diverse group of Maine organizations like the Maine Sheriffs Association, Maine Municipal Association, and Maine Gun Safety Coalition.  

How do other states regulate guns in voting booths at at municipal meetings? 

Ten states and Washington D.C. prohibit guns in all voting booths: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas. Seven additional states do not have pre-emption laws and allow local municipalities to regulate guns in voting booths and municipal buildings: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York.

A greater number of states either prohibit guns at all municipal buildings or allow municipalities to prohibit them. For example, Indiana,  Iowa,  Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Colorado, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Alaska, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, and Pennsylvania specifically allows municipalities to regulate firearms in municipal buildings.

On March 15, 2017, Wyoming's Republican Governor Matt Mead vetoed a bill that would have established Maine’s disjointed policy of prohibiting concealed guns in state legislative meetings, but allowed guns in local government meetings.

Testimony in support of LD 351

LD 351 Sponsor Rep. John Spear (D-South Thomaston): “I have never understood the rationale as to why Maine law prohibits weapons in this Statehouse, on this entire campus, and at county courthouses, but not at municipal buildings...

As I noted this bill grants municipalities the option to prohibit weapons at polling places. I strongly believe that weapons have no place at a venue where people are exercising their most fundamental democratic right. To my mind, the polling place is a venue where we all have a right to peaceably cast ballots that allow us to resolve our political differences in a manner free from even a hint of intimidation or coercion... 

To allow a person to enter a polling place with a weapon is contrary to what all these other prohibitions are designed to achieve and consequently should not be allowed if the community feels that such a prohibition is prudent or necessary.” Read Rep. Spear's full testimony here.

Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt (D-South Portland) worked as a clerk at a South Portland polling place for 24 years. “Although polling places in my municipality are generally peaceful and the voters patient, occasionally tempers may flare. This most recent election in particular brought about a number of worries in regards to safety, for voters but also for the clerks and wardens and other Election Day workers.

This bill allows municipalities to decide whether it’s necessary or not to prohibit weapons at polling locations. It does not ban weapons; it just gives the power back to the municipal level to determine whether or not further safety measurements are needed.”

The Maine Municipal Association testified in support of LD 351: “The bill requires the people in the municipality to decide whether or not the limited restriction meets the unique needs of the community. The restriction becomes effective if, and only if, the community adopts the ordinance. The decision to move forward with ordinance is entirely up to the residents of the community. 

Finally, it is important to note that during our Policy Committee’s debate on this issue, municipal officials were split on whether or not the restriction found in the bill would benefit their communities. Some municipal officials believe that the authority provided in LD 351 would address the intimidation that some residents feel when attending a public meeting where others are carrying firearms. Other municipal officials believe that the prohibition could provide a false sense of security. However, all agree that the local legislative body is in the best position possible to make that determination for their community." Read the full testimony by Kate Dufour of Maine Municipal Association

Maine Sheriffs’ Association: “The MSA understands that this legislation allows municipalities to prohibit the carrying of dangerous weapons in municipal public proceedings and voting places. The legislation exempts ‘on duty’ law enforcement officers.... The MSA will unanimously support LD 351 if the words 'on duty' were removed.”

Maine Gun Safety Coalition Board Member Ed Suslovic gave compelling testimony about his experience as a legislature in Augusta and Chair of Public Safety committee as a Portland City Councilor. While he served in the legislature in Augusta, there were metal detectors preventing the concealed or open carry of firearms. During his time on the Portland City Council, multiple men sat in the front row of a Portland municipal meeting with handguns on their hips. Several people who came to testify in favor of proposed gun safety policies were afraid to speak out and were effectively silenced. We should create safe places for citizens to participate in the political process. Articles were published in the Portland Press Herald, Bangor Daily News, and Boston Globe.

In 2015, Senator Linda Baker told Bangor Daily News that several officials in her district approached her with concerns about individuals bringing firearms to meetings held on municipal property. “One was actually openly fearful, one was very concerned about individuals who had expressed extreme anger at town officials and who were known to carry firearms would be attending specific meetings,” she said. “To some people it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense that the state legislators are protected, you cannot carry a firearm into the State House, but you can carry one into municipal meetings."

  
LD 351 is presented by Rep. Spear of South Thomaston. Cosponsored by Senator Millett of Cumberland, Sen. Miramant of Knox, Rep. Fecteau of Biddeford, Rep. Babbidge of Kennebunk, Rep. Blume of York, Rep. Beebe-Center of Rockland, Rep. Kumiega of Deer Isle, Rep. Rykerson of Kittery