POLL QUESTION

Legislative panel votes against letting Maine cities and towns pass their own gun bans

Posted April 22, 2013, at 1 p.m.
Last modified April 22, 2013, at 2:07 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee voted 8-3 Monday to recommend against a bill that would allow Maine cities and towns to set their own rules about firearms possession in government buildings.

Rep. Matthew Moonen, D-Portland, sponsored LD 1122, An Act Allowing Municipalities to Enact Firearms Policies in Local Government Buildings. The bill aims to let cities and towns establish restrictions on firearms possession in “essential municipal buildings” and “places of legislative assembly” that mirror those imposed by state government at the Capitol Complex. Visitors are not allowed to bring firearms into the State House, and the previous Legislature approved placement of a security checkpoint there.

During an April 8 public hearing on the bill before the State and Local Government Committee, Moonen cited past incidents in Baltimore, San Francisco, New York City and Kirkwood, Mo., in which gunmen shot elected officials or municipal employees in government buildings. He also noted that firearms are prohibited from more than 9,000 federal buildings nationwide.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck and Kate Dufour of the Maine Municipal Association testified in favor of the bill.

Opponents, including Dennis Crowell of the Capitol City Rifle and Pistol Club, argued that allowing municipalities to establish their own rules would create “a patchwork of restrictions that would result from this legislation” and “impose a major burden on those of us who frequently exercise our constitutional right to bear arms.”

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, a member of the State and Local Government Committee and Senate chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which is considering dozens of proposed bills related to gun rights and gun control, echoed Crowell’s opinion in explaining his opposition to Moonen’s bill Monday.

Gerzofsky said he submitted and supported similar legislation in the past, but that he came to recognize that “it would be very confusing if each town had different rules about guns. … If you have a hodgepodge all over the state, you are going to have our citizens get into trouble unnecessarily.”

Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, one of three State and Local Government Committee members to vote in favor of recommending that Moonen’s bill pass, framed the question as an issue of local control.

“It’s up to my constituents to decide whether to pass it,” he said. “Portland might decide differently.”

Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, who voted against the bill, said she has “no problem with local control,” but compared Moonen’s bill with a controversial measure that passed during the previous Legislature.

“We did this last session with fireworks and I’m not impressed with the outcome,” she said.

Hayes also shared her opinion that giving cities and towns an option to ban firearms from government buildings would “not prevent any tragedy.”

Rep. David Cotta, R-China, who also opposed the measure, argued that the state and national constitutions’ protections of gun rights supersede local control.

Gerzofsky also suggested that recommending passage of the bill could propel lawmakers into another constitutional debate. “I started where you are but I’ve been educated to the issues,” he said to Moonen.

Moonen told the committee Monday that he would be open to an amendment to enact a state law that would ban firearms from city and town halls. However, the committee did not consider such an amendment.

In addition to Chenette, Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, and Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, voted in support of Moonen’s bill. It will go to the full Legislature with an “ought not to pass” recommendation.

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