June 23, 2018
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Maine House speaker makes new gun, school safety laws her ‘absolute top priority’

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Feeport talks to reporters during a press conference at the State House in Augusta.
By Mal Leary, Maine Public

In the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shootings, Democrats in the Maine Legislature are hoping to introduce a number of last-minute gun control bills, including a ban on “bump stocks,” devices that are used to boost the performance of semiautomatic rifles.

However, one Republican leader says it’s too late in the session to take up such major legislation.

Leaders from both parties will meet Tuesday to decide which, if any, “after deadline” bills they will allow for consideration this session. In addition to the bump stock ban, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and some fellow Democrats are drafting a proposed ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, an improved background check process and a proposal to raise the age to buy a firearm to 21.

[Democrats renew push for Maine bump stock ban]

“I have thought about and worked on almost nothing but this since last Wednesday and it is my absolute top priority above everything else that we do here,” Gideon sad.

But the 10-member Legislative Council is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, so at least one Republican legislative leader would have to vote to allow those measures to be considered as emergency legislation before lawmakers adjourn in April.

Gideon said that she is also drafting so-called “red flag” bills, which are under consideration in Florida and other states. Such a bill would allow a parent or other family member to go to court to block the ability of a person to buy a gun if that person is exhibiting troublesome behavior. A different version would allow law enforcement to seek such an order.

“So there is different ways that can be put together but that is one of the things that we will be introducing,” Gideon said. “We are working right now to put the legislation together.”

Gideon’s announcement to House Democrats on Thursday that she was working on gun violence measures for this session drew a standing ovation. There is also support among democrats in the Senate, but Assistant Senate Minority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, acknowledges that it won’t be easy to move some of the proposals forward.

“To convince Republicans and some Democrats about taking some action on this issue, we have to make the case that changes that we are proposing do not impact their constituent’s ability to possess firearms legally and responsibly,” said Libby.

Senate Republican leaders are undecided on the bump stock ban bill, and they were not available to answer questions about other legislation that is being drafted. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said House Republicans do not want to consider any legislation this session that limits the ability to buy a gun.

“House Republicans, which are largely in the [Maine’s 2nd Congressional District], understand that we have a strong hunting tradition here in Maine, and I think they recognize that we also have a strong tradition of responsible gun ownership, so I don’t see the House Republicans supporting any ban or further restrictions on gun ownership in Maine,” Fredette said.

Fredette also says it is too late in a session that’s already laden with major unresolved issues to add to the workload.

But there is one proposal that could gain some traction within both parties. Gideon says that could take the form of a school safety study group composed of Second Amendment supporters, gun control advocates, and school and law enforcement officials who would deliver their recommendations to the next Legislature.

“We have to recognize we live in 2018,” Fredette said. “We have people out there who may or not be dangerous to our children. We need to put that first. But I think that means we need to go, to tighten security in our schools.”

This report appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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