June 18, 2018
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Maine should hold statewide vote on universal background checks for gun sales

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Jackie Barden listens to her husband Mark speak at Portland City Hall on July 6, 2013 as he called for expanded background checks for prospective gun buyers. The Barden's son, Daniel, was one of 20 first-graders murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
By Mary Anne Royal, Special to the BDN

Six votes. Six. That is what it took to defeat the most reasonable national approach to reducing gun violence in America: a simple measure that would make it more difficult to get a gun if you should not be sold one. But today, anyone that should not have a gun can get a gun from a gun show (only one in Maine requires all sales to go through background checks), online, Uncle Henry’s and even Facebook.

Let us look at the arguments against universal background checks.

One is that it would lead to a registry of who owns what type of gun, and that could lead to someone coming for your firearms. Well, let’s see. We have car registries. You can own any number of cars of any caliber. I have heard of no one coming for your cars because you might use them to commit mayhem.

You have to acquire a hunting license, which registers you, and yet I have heard of no one coming for your hunting firearms because you might use them to commit a crime. Fear of universal background checks has no basis in reality. It is all in the minds of those who wish to conjure specters.

This was addressed by Daniel Webster, professor and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, in his testimony to a Senate subcommittee: “Under current federal law, the FBI must destroy records from background checks within 24 hours of the background check being completed. … There is no evidence that proposals to fix the gap … would alter current prohibitions against creating a registry of gun owners or their guns.”

No registry will be created by universal background checks.

Another argument is that background checks won’t stop criminals from acquiring guns. But it has. Gun purchases have been denied because people were on a list. Felons, drug dealers and others have been denied easy access to guns. Those who would find easy access to guns an invitation to put the odds in their favor can be stopped. And those who would sell to these people for a profit can be deterred.

Drying up this pool of readily available firearms obstructs those who should not have a gun. By requiring background checks on all sales of guns, we as a society send a clear message: It needs to be made as difficult as possible for a criminal to acquire a gun.

And then there is the annoyance argument. Why should someone wishing to purchase a gun be put through that process when that person is a law-abiding citizen? Well, it seems a majority of Americans find it’s a small price to pay to make every effort to keeps guns out of the wrong hands.

Webster testified, “My colleagues and I just completed a large survey of a nationally representative sample of adults and found that 84 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members reported that they supported laws requiring a background check for all gun sales. In the 14 states that currently require background checks for all handgun sales, 89 percent of gun owners supported universal background checks for gun sales.”

A minority of adults in America are holding the rest of us hostage with this argument.

It seems most “reasonable” adults believe universal background checks to be in our best interest. Last year, LD 1240 required that private sales of guns be subject to background checks, and it was passed by our state legislators. It was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, and there was not enough support to override the veto.

Why have those with the power to make this change declined to do so? Why does an emotional argument that is waged by a minority carry such weight? What would happen if such a requirement were brought before the people of Maine? Why has our state Legislature not sent such a request to the people? The Legislature has been asked to do so. Let us ask them once again. Let us decide this issue. Let the people of Maine decide if universal background checks on all gun sales are right for Maine.

Mary Anne Royal of Winterport is coordinator of the Northern Maine Chapter of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.


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