By David Sherwood
AUGUSTA, Maine (Reuters) - Maine will allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit, a practice called "constitutional carry" by Second Amendment advocates, under a bill signed into law on Wednesday by Republican Governor Paul LePage.
The measure will make Maine the fifth state to pass a law legalizing the carrying of a handgun, either openly or concealed, without the requirement of a government permit.
Maine joins Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Kansas in voting to allow the practice, according to National Rifle Association spokesman Lars Dalseide. Vermont has never required a permit. Arkansas and Montana also allow more limited forms of constitutional carry.
More than a dozen other states have considered similar legislation.
The Maine law will take effect 90 days after the state’s legislature adjourns, which is expected in mid-July.
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right of individuals to own and bear firearms, has limited efforts to pass gun control legislation around the country and has served as the basis for expanding gun rights in many states.
Maine law currently allows gun owners to openly carry a handgun without a permit, but concealed carry requires a background check, a licensing fee, a judgment of “good moral character” and evidence the applicant can handle a gun safely.
Sportsmen’s groups and gun advocates argued the process was too onerous, deterring law-abiding citizens from applying.
Opponents, including Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said rigorous background checks kept weapons out of the hands of felons.
The new law, which passed with broad bipartisan support, would eliminate the permit requirement for any resident over 21 years old who is not already prohibited from owning a firearm.
Active members of the military, and veterans over 18 years of age, would be granted the same privilege.
Maine ranked 21st in firearm deaths per 100,000 population in 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hawaii had the fewest and Alaska the most, the data shows.
(Reporting by David Sherwood; Editing by Frank McGurty and Eric Beech)