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Maine House rejects bill requiring background check for private gun sales

A 9 mm pistol and ammunition sit on top of an AF Form 1314 Firearms Registration form. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class J. T. Armstrong)

A bill that would have required background checks for private gun sales in Maine was defeated in the Maine House on Thursday.

The 66-80 vote against the measure effectively kills it, as the Senate voted 16-19 on the bill Wednesday night.

The background check bill was the latest in a series of gun control measures to be rejected by the Legislature, despite intensive lobbying efforts by gun safety advocates.

Still pending is a so-called “red flag” bill that would allow police to temporarily confiscate firearms from a person who is deemed to be a danger to themselves or others as well another measure that would require people taken into protective custody to surrender their guns if they were deemed dangerous.

But earlier this week the Legislature rejected a bill that would have allowed municipal and county governments to ban firearms from public places, including polling stations. The Legislature has also rejected a bill that would have created a minimum 72-hour waiting period for the purchase of a gun and another that would have required gun owners to use trigger locks or gun safes on weapons stored at home.

David Hogg, the co-founder of the student-led March for Our Lives movement, started after the February 2018 shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, visited the state just last week as part of an intensive lobbying effort by gun safety advocates in Maine.

One lawmaker supporting the bill mentioned meeting Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, in her floor speech Thursday, noting he had implored her to “please do something to stop us from getting killed.”

“I told him I was so terribly sorry for what he and his classmates had to endure,” Rep.Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, said. “and that we, the adults in the room, would always have his back and that we would do the right thing. The time is now for us to lead and to act on this. Our children are watching us.”

Rep. Bettyann Sheats, D-Auburn, said she was backing the background check requirement because it closed a loophole that responsible gun owners in her conservative district support.

Sheats was candid in acknowledging the issue of gun rights and gun safety is a dangerous one for politicians in Maine, and her support for the measure could put her reelection campaign “at great risk,” as her district is one of many in the state with a strong culture of hunting and firearm ownership.

Sheats said she supported the bill because unlike a statewide ballot question that was rejected by voters in 2016, the measure would not require background checks between family members or for the loan of a gun between friends.

“I did not support the referendum two years ago,” Sheats said. “Because I hope to hand my guns down to my son legally, without needing a background check, since he’s already been firing them.”

But Sheats said she supported the bill because it “does exactly what the responsible gun owners I have talked to want, it closes the loopholes that allows people to get guns illegally, or legally through a loophole that should not have them.”

The proposal would have required gun sellers to enlist the help of a federally licensed firearm dealer to run a background check on a would-be buyer before completing a private transaction. The requirement would apply to private transactions that occur at gun shows or after the seller advertises the firearm for sale either online or in print.

“It has to be advertised and it has to be for sale, that’s the kind of transfers that this bill will reach,” said Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, who also supported the bill. Cooper said gun homicides and firearm-related suicides had declined in states, like Connecticut, which had enacted similar background check laws.

But opponents to the bill argued a similar measure had already been rejected by voters and that a background check law would not prevent criminal from obtain firearms.

“As a police officer and one of the few people in this room who has actually seized a firearm from a prohibited person, I can assure you that none of this legislation will prevent these folks from getting firearms it will only affect law-abiding citizens,” said. Rep. Matthew Harrington, R-Sanford.

The Senate voted against the bill Wednesday night, with 16 in favor and 19 opposed.


© 2019 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.