A few weeks ago, news reports indicated that a gun sold through a false buyer in Maine has been implicated in the murder of Sean A. Collier, an MIT security officer, and the wounding of Richard H. Donohue Jr. of the MBTA by one of the alleged perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing. Research shows that such sales are not uncommon. Guns purchased in Maine are frequently traced to crimes committed in other states.
As a member of Bishops Against Gun Violence, a group of 52 Episcopal Church bishops serving across the United States, including some who are gun owners, I believe it is time for faith leaders, civic leaders and legislators to join together to reduce the number of illegal guns sold and transported across state lines and to establish policies that make our communities safer for our neighbors. We have a moral obligation to work to stem violence of all types, most specifically gun violence that tragically pervades our society with stunning frequency.
I have written a letter to mayors of six Maine cities inviting them to consider joining the bipartisan coalition of mayors in 44 states, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. I commend the mayors in four Maine cities — William Stokes of Augusta, Michael Brennan of Portland, Karen Heck of Waterville, and Colleen Hilton of Westbrook — who have already joined. We share the belief that the support of the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with saving lives by keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and those who would be unable to obtain a gun through legal channels.
The top legislative priority of Mayors Against Illegal Guns is advocating for comprehensive and enforceable background checks, a life-saving policy supported by nine out of 10 Americans and a vast majority of law-abiding gun owners.
In the 2013 legislative session, I supported LD 1240, a bill that would have required background checks for gun sales outside of those sold to family members. The bill, which also tightened restrictions on purchases by those who have been treated involuntarily for mental illness and required firearm safety training prior to sales, was passed by both houses before being vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. In the next legislative session, it is my hope that faith leaders and civic leaders can join together to support the reintroduction of that bill or one like it.
While Maine statute allows local law enforcement discretion around the issuance of concealed weapon permits as well as the inspection of gun dealers, there are many more laws enacted in other states that would help to protect our citizens. Several laws are low-hanging fruit in terms of public safety. Here are a few: Anyone who buys a gun providing false information (enacted in 26 states) or a gun dealer who sells a gun without a proper background check (enacted in 24 states) face criminal charges. In fewer than 10 states, criminal charges are made against anyone who buys a gun for someone who is otherwise ineligible to buy one legally. Fewer than 20 states have a law on the books that makes it a criminal offense to leave a firearm unsecured in the presence of a child. I believe Maine should be one of them.
Without more consistent and enforceable background checks and laws to hold people criminally responsible for negligence, guns will continue to be used in crimes in Maine towns and cities as well as be exported to states with stricter background check laws. I believe that such laws would in no way impinge on the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners.
Our responsibility as leaders entrusted with the common good is to protect the innocent whether it stems from the domestic violence that too often plagues communities across Maine or from horrific acts of a rampage shooter or a terrorist. I welcome all partners in efforts to work for safer communities in Maine.
I believe the Spirit is moving across this land to mobilize people of faith and good will to act. All people should be able to live in peace and, as Zechariah dreams, “old men and women shall again sit in the streets. … And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing.”
The Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.