The Brady law requires a criminal background check to find out if a prospective gun buyer is prohibited from purchasing a gun. It is a critical law enforcement tool that prevents felons, domestic abusers and other prohibited people from buying guns.
The law works. Since it was passed in 1994, almost 2 million criminals and other prohibited people have been stopped from purchasing a gun. In 2007, 297 people in Maine where prevented from purchasing guns thanks to a Brady criminal background check. This number includes 145 felons who tried to purchase a gun, 45 people who had been convicted of a domestic violence crime and 15 people who had active restraining orders against them.
But there’s a catch. Only licensed firearms dealers are required by federal law to perform a Brady background check. Consequently, unlicensed sellers may sell firearms without conducting background checks or documenting the transaction in any way. As a result, convicted felons, domestic abusers and other prohibited purchasers can easily buy guns from private, unlicensed sellers.
A number of states have taken steps to close this loophole. Maine, however, allows for the private sale of guns where there will be no background check run, no records kept, and no questions asked. In addition, Maine allows for the advertising of these private sales as seen each week in the pages of “Uncle Henry’s Swap It or Sell It Guide.”
Each issue of Uncle Henry’s is filled with hundreds of guns for sale, most from private sellers. These gun sales will have no background check run, no records kept and no questions asked. Criminals, both in Maine and other states, are well aware of Uncle Henry’s and how it makes it easy to obtain firearms. Two cases highlight this dangerous loophole:
Stanley Jenkins is in jail for selling crack cocaine in Portland and selling guns without a license in Boston and is under indictment for murder. Jenkins picked out guns from Uncle Henry’s and sold the guns in Massachusetts because he would “double or triple his money selling firearms in Boston,” according to court records.
Michael Fowler of Lynn, Mass., pleaded guilty to being an unlicensed gun dealer. The majority of the 28 guns Fowler was charged with trafficking were purchased in Maine through ads in Uncle Henry’s, according to court documents. Fowler took the guns back to Massachusetts to sell. A .45-caliber semiautomatic firearm Fowler purchased in Maine turned up in the hands of someone Boston police arrested just 28 days later.
It should be noted that according to ATF records, Maine is the leading source of crime guns trafficked into Massachusetts.
But it is not just Boston criminals who look to buy guns through private classified ads. Convicted felon Bryant Clyburn of Waterville bought a 9 mm handgun through an ad in Uncle Henry’s, according to news reports. Three days later he used the gun to rob a 73-year-old woman outside of the Bangor Mall. A background check would have denied Clyburn’s purchase.
It is far too easy for prohibited buyers, including felons and domestic abusers, to illegally obtain guns on the street, through classified ads, and at gun shows from unlicensed, private sellers. This dangerous and unfair loophole should be closed.
A number of organizations in Maine have endorsed mandatory background checks, including the Maine Medical Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Boys to Men, the League of Women Voters, and the NAACP. Mayors and chiefs of police of several Maine communities also support this common sense measure. The American Hunters and Shooters Association as well as the International Association of Chiefs of Police back mandatory background checks.
Yet, when the question “Do you support mandatory background checks on the purchase of a firearm?” was asked at a recent gubernatorial candidate forum only three of the 13 candidates present said they support background checks. Just one Democratic candidate, Rosa Scarcelli, one Republican candidate, Bruce Poliquin, and the independent candidate, Eliot Cutler, had the bravery to speak in favor of mandatory background checks. Unfortunately, since the debate, Bruce Poliquin has reversed his position.
Requiring background checks on all gun sales will not prevent people from selling their guns, nor will it lead to the slippery slope the gun lobby keeps crying wolf about. Polling shows overwhelming support for this issue, including support from the majority of gun owners. Responsible gun owners who care about the safety and public health of the community welcome the opportunity to ensure they are not selling guns to felons or domestic abusers.
Shame on those candidates who said no to background checks and chose to turn and run from this tough issue. It looks like politics as usual with them.
Bravo to Rosa Scarcelli and Eliot Cutler for standing up for the people of Maine. We need a governor who demonstrates courage and will work to keep guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers.
Cathie Whittenburg is the director of the New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence in Westbrook.