AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would make illegal ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets drew passionate views from both gun-rights and gun-control advocates during a legislative hearing Monday.

More than 20 bills are being heard this week before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, including the legislation limiting ammunition clips and other bills that require criminal background checks for private and gun show firearm sales.

Many of the bills are in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December.

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, the sponsor of the bill that places limits on ammunition clips, said his was a “straightforward and common sense approach” to limiting the amount of destruction any one shooter could inflict.

Alfond told his colleagues the problem is complex but one that deserves their attention.

“A problem that has caused a nation to grieve — and brought sorrow to families and communities,” Alfond said. “A problem that has given us pause about the tenuous nature of our own life and the lives of our loved ones. And a problem that at times has shaken our faith and called into question the very nature of humanity.”

But gun rights advocates said a limit on a clip’s capacity would not prevent what Lewiston resident and former Army soldier David Shnur called the “pure evil” of the Sandy Hook incident.

“Thank God it is not something that is very prevalent in our society,” Shnur said.

Shnur said his biggest concern with Alfond’s bill was that it does not address whether those limits would be acceptable under the state’s Constitution, after a statewide vote amended it in 1987 to include that the right to keep and bear arms shall “never” be infringed upon.

“On a state level, there is no other provision in any other state in the country that is as strongly worded as the Maine Constitution, and the word of ‘never’ is not used very often,” Shnur said.

Shnur also pointed out that Maine’s closest neighboring states, including New Hampshire and Vermont, do not have any legislation pending that would limit the capacity of ammunition clips.

New York recently enacted a law limiting clip capacity to seven bullets, while Connecticut and Massachusetts have set it at 10, according to Cathie Whittenburg, a Portland resident and member of States United to Prevent Gun Violence.

Whittenburg testified in favor of Alfond’s bill and said Maine’s hunting laws already limited the number of bullets in a clip for hunting to five.

“This is not about stopping all mass shootings,” Whittenburg said. “Because no legislation will do that — but this is about limiting the number of victims and giving people in those situations a fighting chance.”

In recent mass shootings, bystanders or law enforcement were able to intervene or victims were able to make a run for it only when the shooter stopped to reload a weapon, Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck told the committee.

High-capacity magazines were a common theme in the most recent mass shootings, Sauschuck said. He said they were not the only common theme but a critical one.

Lawmakers on the committee will continue hearing bills on changes to Maine’s firearms laws for the rest of the week before they begin work sessions on the bills some time later this month.


Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.