Maine needs to close gun loophole

Posted April 03, 2009, at 7:47 p.m.

I’ve long thought that when parents bury a child, they wear that death on their face for the rest of their lives.

It may be subtle — or not — but it is there, never far from the surface, in a smile a little more forced and eyes a bit harder than before.

If you look at photos and videos of Tom Mauser of Littleton, Colo., before April 20, 1999, you’ll see a happy-go-lucky dad who loved to pester his kids with the video camera. A goofball with myriad funny faces that kept his kids laughing.

Look at pictures and videos of Mauser today and you can see on his face the strain of his 15-year-old son’s death.

You could see it when he was recognized by President Clinton during the State of the Union address. You could see it when he spoke at the White House on gun violence. You could see it when he was arrested for protesting in front of the National Rifle Association headquarters.

I suspect that on Monday, the members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will be able to see it as well.

I hope they look closely and listen carefully.

Mauser’s son, Daniel Mauser, was among the 12 students killed during the shooting at Columbine High School.

On Monday he will speak before the committee in support of LD 814, a bill that if passed would finally close a gaping loophole that allows private gun dealers to sell firearms at gun shows without performing an instant background check.

Similar laws have been passed in Colorado, Oregon and Florida. It’s time for the Maine Legislature to have the guts to pass it as well.

The same bill failed to pass in 2003. A broader bill that would have required background checks for all private gun purchases failed in 2001.

In testimony before the Colorado House Judiciary Committee, a friend of Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold testified that she went to a gun show with the boys the weekend before the shooting. She said the boys kept asking sellers if they were private or licensed.

They wanted to buy their guns from private, not licensed, dealers in order to avoid the paperwork and background check, she said.

“It was too easy. I wish it had been more difficult. I wouldn’t have helped them buy the guns if I had faced a background check,” she said.

Licensed dealers must legally perform background checks when selling a firearm either at their place of business or at a gun show. At gun shows, however, private dealers also can set up shop and they are exempt from having to conduct the checks.

LD 814 does not address the thousands of guns that are sold each year through classified ads between individuals. Bill Harwood of the Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence said this week that he is hoping that the Legislature will support the bill this time around.

“We have nine co-sponsors. I hope that’s a good sign,” he said.

The bill would address gun shows that involve three or more sellers, selling 25 or more guns, he said.

While there were initial snags in the computerized background checks when they were started, technology has advanced so that today’s background checks are nearly instantaneous and should not delay a sale, Harwood said.

This bill is not an assault on anyone’s legal rights to bear arms. It’s closing a ridiculously obvious loophole that offers up an easy opportunity for convicted felons and domestic batterers to gain access to guns.

There is a Web site memorializing Daniel Mauser. On it is a link to a You Tube video of Tom Mauser speaking at the White House just weeks after the Columbine shooting. During that speech he talks about waiting with the other parents of children who were unaccounted for the day of the shooting.

He’s thoughtful and articulate and wrenchingly honest. The NRA has a tight grip and a heck of a lot of support in this state — there is no doubt about that — but Tom Mauser wears the death of his son on his face every day and it’s difficult to ignore.

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