Nine out of 10 Mainers would like to close the “gun-show loophole” that exempts “private” gun sales from any background check or record-keeping. Such exempt sales constitute about 40 percent of all gun sales. But proposed legislation now working its way through the State House does not reflect this near-unanimous public opinion.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee has favorably recommended a bill, LD 1240, that would establish a voluntary background check system with significant penalties for selling a gun to a buyer who could not pass a background check. But a minority report from the committee recommends a watered-down bill that would make such a sale to an illegal buyer an offense only if the seller knew the buyer was illegal. That is, the seller could simply ask “You’re not a convicted felon, are you?” and if the buyer replied “Of course not,” the sale would be legal!
The minority report bill, supported by the National Rifle Association and gun advocates, would make no change to existing law, which already prohibits the knowing sale of a gun to an illegal buyer. It would literally “fix” the gun show loophole by re-enacting the same loophole. And it would cynically dismiss the clearly stated preference of Mainers for more modern and safer gun laws.
Closing the gun-show loophole was overdue before the Newtown, Conn., tragedy and certainly is overdue today. Every year more than 300 gun buyers in Maine fail the federal background check required to be used by gun dealers, but every one of those illegal buyers, plus countless others who are smart enough to not even attempt to pass the test, can buy any gun they like, as often as they like, through Uncle Henry’s, at some gun shows or from private sellers directly, with no questions asked and no record of the sale.
Maine is a relatively safe place to live, and most gun owners recognize their responsibility to keep guns in safe hands. But drug-related crime, suicide, domestic violence and the unimaginable possibility of a Newtown-like tragedy in Maine make a compelling case for adopting modern gun laws that address today’s problems before they become even greater. George Smith, long-time executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, in a public service announcement broadcast statewide, unconditionally recommends that gun sellers use a background check to be sure the buyer is responsible.
As neighboring states improve their gun laws, it is obvious that illegal gun buyers increasingly will come to Maine to buy their guns and, while they are here, sell their drugs. Drug-related gun violence in Maine is increasingly headline news, and it will only get worse if the Legislature re-enacts the gun-show loophole.
Better gun laws, including background checks, do not deprive anyone of rights, they simply enforce existing law and — as polls clearly show — they are supported by most gun owners. This is not a case where one party wins at the expense of another. Better gun laws will make Maine safer for everyone, and they will fully respect the rights of gun owners, a classic win-win solution to a very serious problem.
Voters who want improved gun laws must call their legislators now and express their support for a background check law with teeth, LD 1240. A vote on LD 1240 is scheduled for June 10. Fixing a loophole with a loophole would be a flagrant dereliction of duty by the Legislature.
J. Thomas Franklin is president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.