There is perhaps no more heated debate in our society right now than the debate about gun rights and gun control. Here in Maine, hunters, gun enthusiasts and people seeking simply to protect themselves possess firearms by the dozens in their households.
Women now comprise the fastest-growing demographic among gun owners, with their participation in shooting sports increasing 51.5 percent over the past 10 years. Seventy-three percent of gun retailers reporting increases in female buyers.
The face of gun ownership is indeed changing. So also is the perception of guns, with some blaming and others embracing them.
Some see guns as the cause of violence in America. I, and many others, instead see gun violence as symptomatic of deeper cultural and mental health-related problems in our nation and guns as the most effective tool for protection in a society seemingly more violent than ever.
The numbers don’t lie, and they largely exonerate guns as the culprit.
Here in Maine, we rank 49th among the states for violent crime and have the second-highest rate of gun ownership. Nearby Massachusetts, where one practically has to be a police officer in order to own a gun, ranks 11th for violent crime. California, with its strict gun laws, ranks first, with six times the violent crime rate as Maine.
Maine’s rate of firearms-related death is 6.5 per 100,000. Washington, D.C., where guns are completely prohibited, is 32 per 100,000.
The goal of gun control advocates is to reduce the number of guns and restrict their ownership. Fortunately for Maine, gun control advocates haven’t gotten much traction here.
In fact, in 1987, Maine voters approved a state constitutional amendment which inserted some of the most unequivocal language in support of the right to bear arms of any state constitution. It reads: “Every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.”
However, there are some 80 bills now before the Legislature that question that right. I support the enforcement of common-sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who are mentally unstable, but many new laws are redundant measures that simply pile more regulations on Maine people.
There are a few, however, that enhance that fundamental constitutional right.
Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, has introduced legislation to require high schools to offer an optional gun safety course, which would be provided at little-to-no cost to schools by volunteers from local sportsmen’s clubs. This not only ensures that young adults have knowledge that could prevent gun-related accidents but helps to preserve Maine’s hunting heritage
Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, has introduced a bill, co-signed by all 57 of his Republican colleagues in the House, to make information on concealed weapons permit holders confidential. He was motivated out of a concern that making public the names and addresses of gun owners would invite gun thieves and also out of a concern for fundamental privacy.
Republicans stand with Maine gun owners, whether they are hunters in Aroostook County or mothers in Bangor, and we will do what we can to ensure that your right to bear arms “shall never be questioned.”
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, is the House Republican leader in the Maine House of Representatives.