Gun control bills get pushback from some rights groups
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Dozens of gun-owning residents and advocacy groups, including the National Rifle Association, weighed in Friday on a pile of gun control bills ranging from prohibiting the sale of high-capacity magazines to instituting 72-hour waiting periods for gun buyers.
Critics filled hearing rooms at the Maine Statehouse to speak emotionally about the dangers of governmental overreach, while supporters inspired by Democratic wins in November called for compromise on gun safety legislation. Lawmakers also weighed bills to regulate 3D printed guns and punish those who store a loaded firearm that a child then uses.
Gun control efforts have long faced steep odds in the largely rural state, where hunters tout a long history of responsible gun ownership. Voters in Maine, a concealed-carry state, defeated a question on universal background checks backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2016, and Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has said Maine should respect the people’s will on the issue.
As this year’s legislative session nears its scheduled adjournment, Maine Democrats are again pushing for background checks for private sales and court orders to require certain individuals deemed dangerous to surrender guns. A Republican’s bill, meanwhile, would allow the use of deadly force in self-defense to prevent death or serious bodily injury.
Gun rights groups say Maine has low levels of gun violence compared with the rest of the country and are urging lawmakers to instead pass a sales tax exemption for devices such as safes and trigger locks. They say efforts to make it harder to obtain and access firearms infringes on their civil rights and ability to defend themselves from break-ins in rural communities.
Maine’s constitution, for example reads: “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.”
Francina Pierce, of Hiram, said she lives alone in a sparsely populated area over an hour away from emergency help. She said she’s worried about “tyrannical government,” as well as her unsubstantiated claim of “Muslim children being taught to kill non-Muslims” in the U.S.
“If my gun was in a safe, how would I protect myself?” said Pierce, who said she has also had to contend with a pack of coyotes that killed a calf she relied on for milk.
But supporters argue they want to prevent potential mass shootings and say they’re concerned about at least two Maine children who have died since 2017 of accidental gunshot wounds.
Maine must also address the number of domestic violence homicides involving firearms and the rising number of suicides linked to firearms, say several Democrats and the Bloomberg-linked Maine Gun Safety Coalition.
“I applaud the responsible gun owners who safely secure their weapons, but not everyone does that,” said Scarborough resident Jean Shaw.
Maine has seen nearly 2,000 firearm suicides since 1999, according to data from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Maine’s rate of firearm suicides eclipses that of the U.S. and New England at large. The state saw 151 firearm suicides in 2017 at a rate of 11.3 per 100,000 residents, up from 91 such suicides in 1999 at a rate of 7.18.
Maine represented nearly one-fourth of firearm suicides in New England in 2017, even though its residents are just 9 percent of the region’s population. The nation saw roughly 24,000 firearm suicides in 2017, up from 16,600 in 1999.