Poliquin comes out shooting on gun rights

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican who represents Maine’s 2nd District, announced Thursday that he has co-sponsored a bill that — among other things — would expand the number of states where Mainers can carry concealed weapons.

The bill, H.R. 986, is not yet written but has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. According to Poliquin, it would allow people from states like Maine, where concealed carry permits are allowed, to carry their firearms across state borders and have their permit be valid in other states that issue concealed carry permits.

“Mainers have a tradition of using their firearms responsibly and should be able to defend themselves and their property as they travel,” said Poliquin in a prepared statement.

Poliquin is among 78 co-sponsors of the bill, all but one of whom are Republicans. That’s a sign that the measure won’t attract support from Democrats, the most important of whom is President Barack Obama, who holds veto power. The bill is likely a non-starter, but one that Poliquin and others will be able to unholster in the future to illustrate their stance against gun control.

According to details about the concept from Poliquin’s office, the bill would retain states’ rights to determine their own concealed-carry laws and make concealed carry a judicially enforceable civil right, which among other things means attorney and court fees would be available to plaintiffs and defendants. It also includes provisions of the Firearm Owner Protection Act, which among other things, allows under certain conditions, “safe carry” of concealed weapons through states where concealed carry permits are not legal.

Gun control is one area where politicians are judged decisively by many constituents. It was also a sore spot for Poliquin during last year’s congressional campaign. In the 2014 primary, the National Rifle Association endorsed Republican Kevin Raye, partially because of a $500 donation Poliquin made in 1989 to an organization known as Handgun Control, Inc., which later became The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Poliquin also said during a 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary debate that he supported mandatory background checks for gun purchases.

Regardless, Poliquin holds a lofty “A-minus” rating from the NRA and says despite his statement during the 2010 debate, he does not support expanded background checks for firearms purchases nor any kind of federal directory of gun owners.

However, he may remain vulnerable on this issue among Republican voters. In November 2014, gun-rights activist and Republican-turned-independent Blaine Richardson, who supports full constitutional carry — which means no permits or requirements to conceal weapons in certain public places — earned 11 percent of the vote in the 2nd Congressional District. Though Poliquin still managed to best Democrat Emily Cain by 5 percentage points, Richardson or any conservative candidate who can pull 10 percent or more of the vote represents a serious threat to Poliquin’s re-election.

During his first weeks in Congress, Poliquin is doing his best to portray his position in black-and-white terms.

“As a Mainer, I appreciate and understand the importance of the Second Amendment for our hard-working taxpayers and I will always support and defend their constitutional right,” he said in a prepared statement.

A measure to overhaul Maine’s concealed weapon permit and reciprocity laws, LD 222, was approved by lawmakers in 2014 but was killed after being vetoed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. 

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.