Recently Gov. Paul LePage thumbed his nose at the Maine public and vetoed the criminal background check law approved by the Legislature and by 89.6 percent of Maine residents polled by Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence. In doing so he made the clear choice to continue to make it easier for convicted criminals and domestic abusers to purchase guns.
This blatant repudiation of a clearly expressed public opinion is made even worse by the extraordinary efforts of Democratic criminal justice committee leaders Rep. Mark Dion of Portland and Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick to accommodate Republican party objections to the original bill, which was changed to simply recommend voluntary background checks for all gun sales.
LD 1240 would have changed no one’s right to buy, sell or own a gun. It would not even have mandated a background check for all gun sales. It only would have created a penalty (up to a $500 fine) for selling a gun to a convicted felon or other illegal buyer, and a misdemeanor for doing it more than once. Protecting the alleged “right” of gun owners in Maine to sell their guns to persons prohibited from buying guns was deemed by our governor to be more important than protecting our school children from the possibility of another Newtown, Conn. tragedy.
Maine has a low crime rate, but such statistics are fine only until you become one. One case of domestic violence is too much. One suicide is one too many. Must we become a statistic to validate change? It is more difficult in Maine to buy cold medicine at Walgreens than it is to buy an AK-47 through Uncle Henry’s. Maine has more guns than people, more gun dealers than post offices.
It is increasingly difficult to buy guns in nearby states. Maine only recently, and incompletely, has begun to comply with federal law that requires adding to the federal “do not buy list” of persons found by a court in Maine to be a danger to themselves or others as a result of mental illness. As a result, many to this day can buy any gun they like, even from a gun dealer who uses background checks.
Maine gun owners are responsible and support sensible gun laws. Recent polling shows that 74 percent of National Rifle Association members support mandatory criminal background checks. But the NRA, which more immediately represents gun manufacturers than gun owners, clearly is more influential in Augusta than is public opinion. Republicans seem especially (and mysteriously) gullible when they are befriended by NRA lobbyists from Washington. No Republican Senator and only one Republican representative voted in favor of LD 1240.
Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence and the Coalition for a Safer Maine worked hard to support LD 1240, and our members and supporters contributed an unprecedented amount of time, money, phone calls and emails to achieve a safer Maine. Our voices have been heard, but they have not been heeded. We must take a different approach. I personally believe we must bypass the Legislature and enact more sensible gun legislation for Maine through the referendum process. This will be costly and difficult, but it will succeed: 89.6 percent public support for background checks guarantees that. And we would be able to adopt laws stronger and better than LD 1240. We will consider this option immediately and carefully.
We have and will cultivate the support of gun owners. Better gun laws will not impair their rights to responsibly own and use guns, and they understand. We have and will cultivate support from the faith communities of Maine and the many other organizations that have joined The Coalition for a Safer Maine. And we have and will cultivate your support and that of your neighbors, friends and families. This is not a program for the bashful or faint of heart, but it is a program of great importance to Maine and of immense value to our children and grandchildren.
Tom Franklin is president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.