Right now, there’s a dangerous loophole in Maine law that makes it easy for dangerous people to purchase a gun without going through a background check.
We have a chance in Maine to fix it and make our state safer.
As the executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and as a retired chief of police, protecting public safety and the lives of law enforcement officers are my top priorities.
Closing the background check loophole will help to do both without causing trouble to law-abiding hunters, sportsmen and collectors.
The Chiefs of Police Association is part of a growing coalition of people and organizations who have joined Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, the campaign working to improve background check laws in the state with a ballot question this November.
The initiative is simple: It requires background checks for all gun sales.
As the law stands today, criminals, the severely mentally ill and domestic abusers can buy guns online or through the classified ads with no questions asked, skipping the safeguard of background check.
Closing the background check loophole is a common-sense initiative that recognizes the guarantees of the 2nd Amendment while making it harder for dangerous people to get a gun.
I was a police officer for many years, and I know that no law will stop all gun violence, but I also know that background checks work and make a real difference. Since 1998, background checks have blocked more than 5,500 dangerous people from buying a gun in Maine.
In states that require background checks for all guns sales, 48 percent fewer police officers are killed with handguns and 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners.
And in Missouri, where background checks were rolled back, they are — or, law enforcement officials are — seeing a spike in gun-related crimes and violence.
I understand that people have concerns about new gun laws and worry that they might be about more than just background checks. But the initiative in November is simple, straightforward and clear.
The background check initiative just extends the existing criminal background check system to all gun sales in Maine, including those between strangers who meet online, at gun shows or through classified ads.
It does not create a gun registry or otherwise change gun laws. In fact, federal law prohibits the creation of a gun registry and the FBI destroys records of successful background checks within 24 hours.
Opponents of background checks have a tough job, so it’s no wonder they might try to mislead voters. More than 80 percent of Mainers support closing this dangerous loophole.
More than 98 percent of Mainers live within a 10-minute drive of a federally licensed gun dealer, making background checks fast and convenient.
Maine is a safe place, and the gun owners I know take the responsibilities of gun ownership seriously. That’s why most Maine gun owners support making it harder for felons, domestic abusers and the severely mentally to buy a gun.
Between 2004 and 2013, 132 Maine residents were murdered with guns and more than 1,000 killed themselves with a firearm. There’s also a terrible connection between guns and domestic violence in our state. Forty-two percent of all gun homicides committed in Maine in 2013 involved an intimate partner or family member of the victim.
And guns from Maine are being shipped out of state on what we in law enforcement call the “Iron Highway.” Purchased in Maine, too often without a background check, these guns are ending up in the hands of dangerous criminals throughout New England.
For many families, firearms are part of their cultural heritage, and they hold dear the lessons they learned from their fathers and grandfathers about how to handle guns safely and with respect.
Allowing dangerous people to purchase a gun no questions asked is disrespectful to that heritage and tradition of responsibility.
Requiring background checks on the sale of all firearms will help make our state safer and reduce the risk that the men and women who wear a badge face everyday.
Robert Schwartz, a retired police chief, is the executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.