There are 18 states across the country that have expanded background checks. Of those, 18 only three — Colorado, Washington and Oregon — have a version of universal background checks with language similar to what is proposed this November in Maine because they were backed by ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The reason we strongly oppose Question 3 is because it includes firearm “transfers” as well as sales. Under the proposed initiative language, “transfer” means “any occurrence in which a person furnishes, gives, lends or otherwise provides, with or without consideration,” as defined by state law.
This massive new expansion of the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System extends the mandatory NICS check far beyond selling a firearm or permanent transfers of title to transfers in which gun owners have traditionally shared or loaned firearms, previously exempted by federal law — loaning a trusted friend a shotgun to go hunting if you do not go with him, for example.
If the law passes, this is what loaning a firearm to a friend would look like. First, you and a friend would have to meet at the premises of a dealer willing to conduct the temporary transfer. The dealer would take the firearm you intend to loan, have your friend fill out a form and call NICS. If your friend passes the check, you would likely be charged a fee, For legal purposes, your friend now appears to be the possessor of record.
We aren’t done. In order to get your gun back — another transfer — you have to do the same thing in reverse, undergo the NICS check and perhaps pay another fee.
Worse, unknowingly violating this new law could result in 364 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine. A second offense is a felony and loss of firearm rights forever — for letting a friend borrow a gun. No state has assessed these penalties.
This law could have been written to be simple, easy to understand and with penalties that fit the crime. It is not.
In addition to our concerns with the new transfer provision, we take offense with the claims that Maine is a state with “loopholes” in our laws, while proponents ignore federal laws.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 is a federal law that regulates everyone: firearm industry, dealers and individual gun owners. The GCA regulates commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearm sales and transfers, except by licensed (FFL’s) manufacturers, dealers and importers. Subject to limited exceptions, a person may only acquire a firearm legally within their own state.
The GCA makes it an offense to “transport into or receive in the State where he resides … any firearm purchased or otherwise obtained by such person outside that State,” except as specifically permitted.
Generally, the GCA also prohibits any private or dealer sale where the facts suggest the purchaser is a nonresident. A nonresident visiting Maine may buy a rifle or shotgun from an FFL dealer with a background check. For a nonresident to legally purchase a Maine gun, the firearm must be sent to an FFL dealer in that person’s state of residence and transferred with a background check.
The GCA prohibits residents from acquiring firearms at a gun show outside their own state. An out-of-state buyer may place an order with a gun dealer at a gun show, in which case the firearm is shipped to an FFL dealer located in the buyer’s state of residence, undergoes a background check. Gun dealers do conduct background checks on Maine buyers at Maine gun shows.
Yes on 3 proponents claim that gun sales may be arranged via classified ads or online. Can guns legally be mailed to the buyer’s home without a background check? No. The GCA makes handguns and concealable firearms nonmailable. A violation is already a federal felony.
Under the GCA, it is already illegal for anyone to purchase a firearm from an FFL dealer on behalf of someone else. This is called a “straw purchase,” and it is already a crime.
There are no loopholes that allow nonresidents to traffic guns in and out of Maine. The only firearm sales currently allowed without a background check are those between Maine residents. Although the initiative would require a background check for these once-exempt firearm sales, the addition of transfers, to include temporary loans for sporting purposes, goes too far.
Question 3 is a massive overkill and as written, disproportionately impacts law-abiding citizens. It should be rejected.
David Trahan is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.