Maine joins federal case on gun ownership

Posted Dec. 10, 2009, at 8:11 p.m.

Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills and three members of Maine’s congressional delegation have joined 37 other states in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to apply its decision issued last year in the Washington, D.C., gun ban case to every municipality and state in the nation.

The justices ruled 5-4 in June 2008 that Washington, D.C., could not ban residents from possessing firearms because the right to bear arms is a constitutional and individual right protected by the Second Amendment. That decision, however, applied only to the federal enclave, not to states and municipalities.

The briefs signed by Mills, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Rep. Michael Michaud urge the justices to apply that ruling to states and municipalities under the 14th Amendment. The due process clause of that amendment has been used since the Civil War to apply the Bill of Rights to the states.

Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District did not sign the brief, according to her office in Washington, D.C.

The nation’s high court on March 2 will hear oral arguments in the appeal of a ruling by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which upheld the Windy City’s handgun ban earlier this year. The appellate court found that the Second Amendment is not an adequate basis for lawsuits attacking local gun ordinances.

Until June 2008, the debate over the right to bear arms focused on whether the U.S. Constitution protected the right of states to form militias or the right of an individual to possess a firearm.

No matter what the U.S. Supreme Court decides in the latest challenge to the Second Amendment, it will not affect Maine’s gun laws, according to Mills.

“The people of Maine have spoken on this issue,” she said earlier this week in an e-mail. “Maine voters overwhelmingly enacted an amendment to the Maine Constitution in 1987 making clear that the right to bear arms under our Constitution is not merely a means to support a militia. At the same time our highest court has ruled that this provision does not prevent the state from enacting reasonable regulations dealing with firearms.”

Some of those regulations include laws that prevent a person facing a temporary protection from abuse order from possessing firearms and limit within a municipality where firearms may be discharged.

“The state of Maine, as well as 43 other states, already has a state constitutional provision,” Mills continued, “so I do not anticipate any adverse effects on Maine’s laws regarding firearms [from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision].”

Mills is one of 38 attorneys general who in November signed an amicus curiae — or “friend of the court” — brief in the case. Snowe and Collins are two of 58 senators, and Michaud is one of 251 representatives who last month signed a similar brief. More members of Congress signed this amicus brief than any other brief in history, according to the Congressional Quarterly.

Both briefs express support for Second Amendment rights and urge the nation’s highest court to rule against the city of Chicago and extend to the states its decision in the Washington, D.C., case.

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