AUGUSTA, Maine — Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group organized by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is running TV ads in the state urging Maine’s U.S. senators to vote for legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales at gun shows, but opponents say the bill goes much further than that.
“We need to close this loophole,” said Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert. “Having dealt with criminals throughout my whole law enforcement career of some 33 years, I know we need to get this loophole closed.”
Gilbert has served as U.S. marshal for Maine and as the police chief in Lewiston. He said the law that allows individuals at gun shows to sell weapons without conducting a criminal history background check on a gun purchaser has been responsible for a lot of firearms ending up in the hands of criminals.
“There have been too many instances where guns bought without a check at gun shows have been used in terrible crimes,” Gilbert said.
In announcing the campaign, Bloomberg pointed out the ads are starting on the 11th anniversary of the Columbine shootings in Colorado and a few days after the third anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings.
Each day, 35 people in America are killed with guns, he said, “the equivalent of a Virginia Tech massacre every single day.”
Gilbert said the campaign has the support of at least three other mayors in Maine, and he expects there may be other mayors who also support the legislation. In addition to Gilbert, the other Maine supporters listed on the group’s website are Arthur Verow, mayor of Brewer; Jill C. Duson, mayor of Portland, and Roland Michaud, mayor of Saco.
Nationally the group says more than 500 mayors have endorsed the legislation.
Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association, said the legislation being supported by the mayors goes way beyond requiring criminal background checks. He believes the proposal violates several provisions of both the U.S. and state constitutions.
“This bill in fact creates a de facto gun owners registration database in states where registration is not required, like here in Maine,” he said. “The tone of the bill assumes that a significant number of gun owners are suspect of being bad guys, which is factually inaccurate.”
Weinstein said that while there are instances of a criminal buying a gun from a private seller at a gun show, he says they are few. His group recommends that any seller of a gun do a criminal history background check of the buyer to make sure he is qualified to buy a gun. He said the legislation goes much further than a back-ground check requirement and would impose “draconian” controls on gun ownership.
“We really have no issue with that particular portion of the bill,” he said. “It is the other provisions that concern us.”
Maine’s two senators long have said advertising campaigns on issues do little to influence their votes. On this issue, both say they do not want to erode the right of citizens to own weapons.
“Since arriving in Congress, I have been a strong advocate of Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens,” Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said in a statement. “It has always been my view that Congress should do all it can to minimize the illegal ownership and use of guns and fully enforce firearms laws already in place, while protecting the rights of thousands of Maine gun owners who, for generations, have owned and used firearms legally and responsibly.”
She said she will continue to advocate for policies that “are in the best interest of my fellow Mainers” as Congress debates the legislation.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would not support the legislation as proposed. She said responsible gun ownership is part of the heritage of many Maine families.
“While I support common-sense steps to prevent criminals from buying guns,” she said in a statement, “I do not believe that imposing additional requirements on law-abiding citizens purchasing firearms at gun shows will change the behavior of those intent on using firearms for criminal purposes.”
While the mayors group has launched its campaign for the legislation this week, it is unknown when or if the Senate will consider the bill this session.