Sometimes it seems like an uphill push to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, children, psychopaths and spouse abusers. And the National Rifle Association isn’t much help, with its obsession that any reform effort is aimed at doing away with guns altogether.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Maine a low rating of 12 out of a possible 100 points in its annual state-by-state scorecard. It concluded: “Maine has weak gun laws that help feed the illegal gun market, allow the sale of guns without background checks and put children at risk.” And it noted that Maine has not joined other states in banning military-style assault weapons to take the place of the expired national ban. It reminded us that they are “as easy to buy as hunting rifles.”
In April, the NRA helped kill a Maine gun-control bill supported by the father of one of the students killed at Columbine High School in Colorado. It would have required unlicensed and private gun dealers to perform instant background checks at gun shows. Under heavy pressure, the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee substituted a mere request for voluntary cooperation.
Similarly, the NRA in 2004 and 2005 helped defeat efforts in Congress, supported by both of Maine’s Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to require a child safety trigger lock on weapons being sold or exchanged.
Both senators did, however, vote against a 2004 proposal for criminal background checking of all sales and exchanges of firearms. Sen. Snowe said in a statement that she supports background checks that can be completed within a reasonable time frame. She said she has always stood for minimizing the illegal ownership and use of guns, “while protecting the rights of the overwhelming number of Mainers who, for generations, have owned and used firearms legally and responsibly.”
Sen. Collins’s spokesman, Kevin Kelley, said in a statement: “Senator Collins grew up in Northern Maine where responsible gun ownership is part of the heritage of most families. That is why she has consistently defended the Second Amendment and the rights of responsible gun owners.”
In the 2008 cycle, the NRA contributed to neither Maine senator. The NRA, for all its money and influence, has proved lately to be something of a paper tiger. In Maine, it endorsed the losing Republicans in the two state Senate seats that the Democrats picked up. It also endorsed the losing incumbent Republicans in five of the state House seats won by the Democrats.
But if NRA strength is a myth, some Maine politicians have yet to learn it.