AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill on Wednesday that will make Maine one of a handful of states where residents are free to carry a hidden firearm without a permit.
The bill’s success is a huge victory for gun-rights advocates who have long fought to get rid of the concealed handgun permit requirement, which they say doesn’t do anything to make the public safer.
‘‘It really is a historic day in the state of Maine that this common-sense measure is finally signed into law,’’ said Sen. Eric Brakey, the Republican who sponsored it.
But it’s unlikely to end a contentious debate over the issue in in the state, where opponents argue that erasing the permit requirement will put the public and law enforcement in danger.
‘‘It’s mind boggling to me,’’ said Kristen Kucera, a resident of North Yarmouth and a member of the Maine chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. ‘‘As a concerned mom, I just can’t understand why they would put our kids in jeopardy like this.’’
The law is expected to go into effect in October, or 90 days after lawmakers adjourn, which they plan to do later this month.
Maine will join five states, including Kansas and Vermont, with such a policy, according to the National Rifle Association. It’s also allowed in Arkansas and Montana, but not everywhere in the state, an NRA spokesman said. New Hampshire’s Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a similar bill on Monday and it isn’t expected to have enough support in the Legislature to go into law over her objections.
Under Maine’s permit process, residents have to pay a fee, pass a background check and prove that they’ve participated in firearm safety training or demonstrate an understanding of handgun safety.
Critics of the bill said that process is essential because while background checks are required by federal law when someone purchases a gun at a licensed dealer, they aren’t required for private gun sales in the state. The new law will apply only to residents who are at least 21 years old, except for military service members and veterans who are 18 and older.
Several prominent law enforcement groups, including the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Maine Sherriff’s Association, opposed the bill. The gun-control group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Everytown for Gun Safety, ran TV, radio and digital ads across the state urging lawmakers to defeat the measure.
But supporters, including the Maine State Police, said the permit system burdens responsible gun owners and doesn’t prevent violent criminals from carrying weapons. Maine gun owners are already free to carry their weapon without a permit as long as it’s visible and supporters said it doesn’t make sense that they would need one just to place their firearm under a jacket.