The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives people the right to bear arms. Maine's constitution also recognizes gun rights, stating, "Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms, and this right shall never be questioned." Yet, the right to bear arms is not absolute. The challenge for federal and state governments is how to balance concerns for public safety with the right to own guns.
On Oct. 25, 2023, a mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, brought renewed attention to the state's gun laws. A gunman opened fire in a bowling alley and a restaurant, killing 18 people and injuring 13 others. After a two-day chase, authorities found the suspect, an Army reservist, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Circumstances surrounding the case have led Maine's governor to call on the Maine legislature to tighten the state's gun restrictions, particularly in the area of background checks and mental health. Whether Maine enacts new legislation in the aftermath of the shooting remains to be seen. Lawmakers often disagree on what changes to firearm laws will help prevent gun violence.
While constitutional provisions take precedence, federal and state firearms laws continue to develop and change. Federal laws provide a structure to regulate firearms' legal manufacture, use, sale, and possession. The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) regulated certain dangerous weapons, including short-barreled rifles and shotguns, silencers, and machine guns. It requires registration of these weapons and others. The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) expanded categories of persons barred from having or owning firearms. Bans extend to people with felony convictions and misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence, those who are subject to protection orders, and more. Under the GCA, the government will run a background check when a person tries to buy a firearm from a federally licensed gun dealer. This helps prevent gun purchases by those prohibited under the law.
Maine's Gun Laws
To many, Maine's gun laws focus more on gun ownership than gun safety. Maine sees itself as a mostly rural state. So, its gun laws focus on safety related to hunting and recreational target shooting. Gun control advocates recommend that Maine pass laws supporting universal background checks for gun purchases and consider a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
In 2015, Maine enacted a "permitless carry" law. It allows people 21 years of age and older who can legally have a firearm to carry a concealed firearm without a permit. Gun control advocates see these laws as dangerous as they can lead to people carrying a firearm with little experience or bad intentions. With permit or license laws, the public can take comfort in knowing that carriers had to complete firearms training and pass a background check before carrying concealed weapons. The State of Maine still has a concealed carry permit law. It allows Maine residents to get reciprocity from other states. The Maine State Police, local police chiefs, or sheriffs can issue permits.
Maine enacted a preemption statute that prevents local municipalities from passing firearms regulations in most areas. One exception is that local jurisdictions can regulate the discharge of firearms within their boundaries.
Maine law generally allows people over 21 who are not banned from having a firearm to have firearms in motor vehicles. Those 18-20 years old who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, the National Guard, or a law enforcement agency will typically qualify for an exception. Employers can't ban employees who have a concealed handgun permit from having firearms in their locked vehicles as long as the firearm is not visible.
As with other states, Maine bans carrying a firearm in certain locations. With limited exceptions, you cannot have a gun in, on, or at:
- Federal buildings
- Grounds and buildings of the state capitol in Augusta
- Establishments licensed to sell liquor for on-premises consumption
- Correctional facilities and jails
- Acadia National Park and state parks
- Private premises, if prohibited by the owner
- Labor disputes and strikes
Although Maine does not require a firearm permit, it demands that every firearm dealer in the state offer a firearm safety brochure with each sale. They must post information related to local, voluntary firearms safety programs. Dealers must also offer to show buyers how to use a trigger-locking device.
The following table details the primary gun laws in Maine.
Relevant statutes (laws)
- Maine Revised Statutes (MRS) Title 15, Section 393: Possession of firearms by prohibited persons
- MRS Title 17A, Section 554A: Unlawful transfer of firearm other than handgun to a minor
- MRS Title 17A, Section 554B: Unlawful transfer of a handgun to a minor
- MRS Title 17A, Section 1051: Possession of machine gun
- MRS Title 17A, Section 1056: Possession of armor-piercing ammunition
- MRS Title 17A, Section 1057: Possession of firearms in an establishment licensed for on-premises consumption of liquor
- MRS Title 17A, Section 1058: Unauthorized possession of a firearm in a courthouse
- MRS Title 17A, Section 1059: Unauthorized possession of a firearm in a correctional facility or jail
- MRS Title 20A, Section 6552: Firearms in schools (with exceptions)
- MRS Title 20A, Section 10009: Public safety on college and university campuses
- MRS Title 25, Section 2003: Permits to carry concealed handguns
- MRS Title 25, Section 2012: Sale of firearms to include safety brochure
Maine and federal law (National Firearms Act) ban carrying certain guns without authorization. This includes:
- A machine gun, except for a member of the armed forces or law enforcement officer carrying the weapon as part of official duties
- Armor-piercing ammunition
Who may not own
The following people are not allowed to have firearms:
- A person convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for one year or more (including juveniles). A felon can apply for a firearm permit five years after being discharged from prison or probation.
- A person who's been involuntarily committed to a hospital pursuant to a court order as found to present a likelihood of serious harm
- A person found not criminally responsible because insane or not competent to stand trial
- A restricted person under the state's "yellow flag" law
- A fugitive from justice
- A person who has renounced their U.S. citizenship
- An alien illegally and unlawfully in the U.S. or under a nonimmigrant visa is prohibited under federal law.
- A person who was dishonorably discharged from the armed forces.
- A person who is an unlawful user or addicted to any controlled substance
- A person subject to a protective order consistent with prohibitions in federal law
- A person convicted (or adjudicated as a juvenile) of certain domestic violence crimes
Maine has no law requiring gun owners or gun buyers to get a license.
Concealed carry license required?
- A concealed handgun permit is not required for people 21 and older who are otherwise law-abiding citizens and are not prohibited from possession by law. Maine continues to provide concealed handgun permits for interested gun owners.
- If you are 18 to 20, you must have a concealed firearm permit
- Nonresidents can carry a concealed firearm if the person gets a permit from a state that accepts Maine's permit to carry
Open carry allowed?
|Maine allows open carry.
Eligibility for a concealed carry license
To be eligible for a concealed carry license, you must:
- Be at least 18
- Complete a detailed license application
- Be eligible to carry a firearm under federal and Maine laws
- Show knowledge of handgun safety
- Be of good moral character
- Upon request for good cause by the issuing authority, provide access to Department of Health and Human Services records related to mental health
- Upon request for good cause by the issuing authority, submit a photo and/or fingerprints to resolve issues of identity
- Show knowledge of handgun safety, which may include completion of a firearms safety course within the last five years
Machine gun laws
|Possession of a machine gun in Maine is illegal unless the weapon meets an exception under federal law.
Penalties for illegal firearm possession
- Possessing a firearm with a felony conviction (or adjudication) or a domestic violence conviction (or adjudication) under Title 15, Section 393 is a Class C crime, punishable by up to five years in prison; a fine of up to $5,000; or both
- Possessing a firearm with any other disability set forth in Title 15, Section 393 is a Class D crime (under most circumstances), punishable by up to 364 days in jail; a fine of up to $2,000; or both
- Unlawful possession of a machine gun is a Class D crime, punishable by up to 364 days in jail; a fine of up to $2,000; or both
- Unlawful possession of armor-piercing ammunition is a Class C crime, punishable by up to five years in prison; a fine of up to $5,000; or both
- Unlawful possession of a firearm in a liquor establishment, a courthouse, or a correctional facility or jail is a Class D crime, punishable by up to 364 days in jail; a fine of up to $2,000; or both
- Unlawful transfer of a firearm (other than a handgun) to a minor under 16 is a Class D crime, punishable by up to 364 days in jail; a fine of up to $2,000; or both
- Unlawful transfer of a firearm (other than a handgun) to a minor 16 or older but under 18 is a civil violation, punishable by a fine of up to $500. It can become a Class D crime on a subsequent offense
- Unlawful transfer of a handgun to a minor under 18 is a Class D crime, punishable by up to 364 days in jail; a fine of up to $2,000; or both. It can become a Class C crime on a subsequent offense
Penalties for illegal possession on or near school grounds
|Possessing a firearm on public or private school property is a Class E crime, punishable by up to six months in jail; a fine of up to $1,000; or both.
|Red flag law?
|Yes, but it has limitations. Maine calls its law a yellow flag law. It requires the police officer first to take a person seen as a danger to self or others into protective custody. A medical practitioner must then assess the person and confirm a likelihood of foreseeable harm. If they do, the police can petition the court to restrict the person's access to firearms for one year. If the court grants an initial request, a full hearing follows in 14 days. Family members can't directly petition the court.
|Universal background checks?
|No. Maine law does not subject private gun sales to a criminal background check.
|No. Maine maintains a duty to retreat before the use of deadly force in self-defense when one can do so with complete safety. An exception from the duty to retreat applies to a person in their own dwelling who was not the initial aggressor.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of any state law(s) you are reviewing.
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Getting Legal Help
Understanding the interaction between federal and state gun control laws can be difficult. You may have questions about gun ownership or gun crimes, including what laws prevail if you travel to neighboring states. Consider getting legal advice. You can start by speaking with a constitutional lawyer or criminal defense lawyer in Maine.