AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that requires an instant criminal background check before the sale of a firearm at a gun show in Maine, along with several others aimed at gun control and gun-owner rights, ended up in legislative limbo Monday.
The bills before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee either failed to garner the support they needed to be passed on to the full Legislature or were the victims of 6-6 tie votes and may be voted on again in the weeks ahead.
“It might take a couple of work sessions but it’s better to get the committee, as much as possible, in agreement with what we are doing,” Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said after a nearly four-hour work session on the bills.
Included in the list left more or less on the table is LD 267, sponsored by Gerzofsky. That bill would require background checks for people who purchase firearms at Maine gun shows.
The committee also discussed the merits of another controversial bill, LD 997, authored by state Senate President Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland. Alfond’s measure would place restrictions on ammunition feeding devices. The bill essentially limits the number of rounds any firearm can store in a magazine to 10, while prohibiting machine-gun-style feeding devices.
Republicans argued that restrictions on magazine capacities wouldn’t have prevented any of the recent mass shooting tragedies including the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said he could see holding off voting on some of the bills but didn’t believe Alfond’s measure was one that warranted being included in that group.
“Unless we are looking at this as a bargaining chip to try to get you to go along with what I want I can’t see any reason for not voting on this today,” Plummer said.
Plummer said he was hesitant to invoke the Sandy Hook situation but that because others had, including national politicians, he wanted his view known.
“I don’t believe if this law were in effect in that elementary school it would have saved one life,” Plummer said. He also said there is some information suggesting the Sandy Hook shooter was using a high-capacity clip that jammed and that allowed some children to escape. He said the shooter may have killed more if he was armed with just 10-round clips.
“I don’t see this bill doing anything for anyone and I don’t see any element of this bill relating to elements of bills that we have heard or will be hearing,” Plummer said.
But Rep. Joshua Plante, D-Berwick, had a vastly different view.
“Maybe we have the potential for flushing out something new,” Plante said of considering the bills as a group. “Or maybe we can combine a couple of bills and fix the problem that we see existing within our own opinions but also within the law.”
Plante also said he strongly objects to the idea that limiting magazine capacity would make no difference in mass shootings.
“If we stop these people from having the luxury of having 30 rounds — a hundred rounds,” Plante asked. “Are we really doing a bad thing?”
Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, said he didn’t believe most on the committee were going to “fundamentally” change their positions.
“I know I’m not going to,” Wilson said.
But Gerzofsky also urged the committee to take a big-picture look and not to toss out any of the proposed bills yet. He said with about 20 gun bills before the committee, its members should consider their work like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle.
“Taking the pieces off the table now gets you nothing except a missing hole,” Gerzofsky said.
Also left on the docket is a bill, LD 1240, sponsored by the committee’s House chairman, Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland. LD 1240 would promote the safe use and sale of firearms.
Dion is a former Cumberland County sheriff. His proposal includes a requirement for firearm safety training, a new prohibition from possession for those who have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital on an emergency basis, and an increase in the fine for those using a fictitious name to purchase a firearm from $50 to $1,000.
The bill would increase the minimum age for a concealed handgun permit from 18 to 21. It also requires background checks for gun show and private firearm sales.
In a series of votes Monday the committee first voted 7-5 against a bill, LD 380, that would have given law enforcement greater leeway in confronting somebody carrying a firearm openly.
The committee then split its vote evenly and mostly along party lines on several other bills or motions to table those bills.
Gerzofsky vowed the bills would not leave the committee until its members had a chance to reconsider some of the votes taken Monday. Gerzofsky said it’s likely several of the gun bills would be rolled into a comprehensive committee-sponsored bill or two.
“We might wind up with two bills, but certainly 20 is a little aggressive,” Gerzofsky said.
The Maine House of Representatives is also expected to vote this week on a bill that would make permanent a temporary law that has sealed from the public record information on those with concealed handgun permits.
That bill, LD 345, is expected to be debated on the floor of the House on Tuesday or Wednesday.