I grew up in a small town in Washington County — the kind of town where, even in January, kids spend more time outdoors than in. I remember taking my dad’s single-shot .410 shotgun rabbit hunting after a fresh snowfall. I tracked the rabbits in the snow and, to no one’s surprise, never actually got one.
Nonetheless, I learned at an early age how to handle guns responsibly. With four brothers in my family and a dad who hunted, hunting and responsible gun ownership were part of growing up in rural Maine.
Gun ownership has become exceedingly more complex, controversial and difficult in the years since my childhood up north. There are more regulations and stiffer penalties for them. Back then, when something tragic happened, people didn’t blame the gun any more than people today blame a car for a car accident.
We’re seeing this changing attitude toward guns in the form of an avalanche of gun-control legislation at the State House right now. Dozens of bills seek to suppress Mainers’ right to bear arms in the well-intentioned name of crime control. But with the highest gun ownership rate in the nation, coupled with one of the lowest gun violence rates, imposing all these new rules on gun owners seems like a solution searching for a problem.
Three of the bills seek to further limit magazine capacities. This is a great example of feel-good legislation that lacks evidence of effectiveness and actually hurts law-abiding people who are trying to protect themselves. Upon expiration of the law that banned assault weapons and high capacity magazines, the U.S. Department of Justice commissioned a University of Pennsylvania study to examine the effect of strict limits on magazine sizes. The study found that the ban did not reduce the incidence of high-capacity magazines being used in crimes.
But it’s not just that strict magazine limits are ineffective at preventing crimes; they’re very effective at limiting the ability of ordinary people to defend themselves. Take, for example, the mother in Georgia who recently had to defend herself and her two children from an intruder in her own home. She squeezed off all six rounds in her revolver, hitting her mark five times. This wasn’t enough to put down her family’s attacker, however, as he turned and fled the house alive.
What if he hadn’t run? What if there were two or three of him? That brave mother should have the right to choose a weapon with a higher capacity.
Another bill, LD 223, increases the age at which a Mainer can obtain a concealed handgun permit from 18 to 21. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re old enough to carry a gun in Afghanistan, you’re old enough to carry one in Amherst.
Yet another, LD 380, bans the public display of guns in a way that may cause someone “to suffer intimidation or alarm.” I’ll let that one speak for itself.
These few examples of gun control being considered by the Maine Legislature are indicative of a something bigger than lawmaking, however. In an opinion column, one state representative from southern Maine recently wrote of guns that “no home should contain them,” and “we must teach our children this.”
The truth is, each one of these proposals — limiting magazine sizes, increasing age restrictions, banning display — can be sold by politicians as small or “reasonable” restrictions that aren’t about gun rights at all but merely about, well, just controlling them a little bit more. All of these little infringements on who can have what kind of gun when and where and for what purpose combine to the point where an objective observer cannot deny that our constitutional right to bear arms is under assault.
If you value Maine’s hunting heritage, if you value the independence that comes with the ability to protect yourself without relying on government, if you feel like owning a gun nowadays makes you a social pariah, then I encourage you to get involved. Contact your local state legislator, come to a bill’s public hearing or write a letter to the editor.
Our guns can’t defend themselves. Our constitution, our liberty and our way of life depend on you.
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, is the Republican leader in the Maine House.