CUMBERLAND — In light of the recent “open carry rally” in Portland (where firearms were openly displayed), it might be of interest to review the gun situation in Maine.

Maine has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the country and a higher rate of death from firearms than Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire and six other states.

About 13 children and 100 adults die in Maine each year from firearms. The most recent data from the Maine Center for Disease Control show that the suicide rate for people ages 20 to 24 is 30 percent above the national average, and firearms account for more than 50 percent of these deaths.

It is legal for a 16-year-old (with parental permission) to buy a rifle and an 18-year-old, a handgun. Drinking is legal at 21 and a driver’s license at 16.

Maine is the No. 1 supplier of guns used in crimes in Massachusetts. The U.S. attorney in Portland, working with federal agencies in Maine and Massachusetts, has targeted two-way traffic (guns to Massachusetts and drugs to Maine) with extensive use of undercover agents, informants, specialized Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and FBI agents from outside the region and cooperative programs with local and state law enforcement.

They investigate and prosecute both the out-of-state dealers and their Maine resident accomplices, including students and young women enlisted as “straw buyers” (who buy guns legally and resell them to those who would not pass a background check), as well as local gun dealers who illegally sold to unqualified buyers, some of whom turned out to be law enforcement officers working undercover.

The investigation and prosecution of the gun and drug trafficking remain a high priority of all law enforcement agencies along the I-95 corridor. Maine requires no background checks or records of gun sales at gun shows (except from licensed dealers) or sales made through ads in Uncle Henry’s shopping guide and newspapers.

More than 885 Mainers failed background checks during the most recent three years for which data is available. To fail, one has to be a convicted felon or domestic abuser or to have been deemed mentally unfit.

Massachusetts has much stricter gun regulations, making it easier to buy guns in Maine. Many states (eight, in fact) require background checks at all gun shows. Only one gun show in Maine requires licensed dealers (in Bangor). Polls show that 88 percent of Mainers would like stricter gun laws.

The gun lobby (the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine) work relentlessly to weaken Maine’s very weak gun laws. When a bill was proposed in February to ban guns in Acadia National Park, SAM argued that its members needed firearms to protect themselves from criminals – because hunting is banned and there are no bears in that park.

The group I work with – Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence – is very respectful of hunters and target shooters. These people, for the most part, are responsible citizens who do not abuse their right to have firearms.

SAM would have people believe we are against all guns. Not so. As the only group in Maine working to reduce gun violence, we have made progress enacting new legislation to further this cause.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded by mayors Michael Bloomberg in New York and Thomas Menino in Boston, will invest funds in Maine to improve our gun laws in order to reduce the flow of illegal guns to their urban areas.

In the past, MCAHV has distributed thousands of free gun locks throughout communities in Maine and will continue to submit new legislation in hopes of protecting domestic violence victims and others threatened by firearms.

— Special to the Press Herald