AUGUSTA — When a Maine newspaper recently requested personal information, including names and addresses, on every concealed-weapons permit holder in Maine, the outrage was immediate and strong.

It was also to be expected, and for good reason: Mainers view gun ownership as an issue of liberty and freedom granted to them by the framers of our Constitution, and they saw the paper’s action as an assault on their rights.

The Bangor Daily News’ request came shortly after a New York newspaper, following the Sandy Hook tragedy, published an interactive online map that provided the names and addresses of concealed-weapons permit holders in that state. The New York State Assembly moved quickly to make this information confidential for four months; Maine recently passed a bill barring the release of concealed-weapons permit holders’ names until at least April 30 and is considering a proposal to make this action permanent.

The Bangor Daily News stated in its request to police agencies that it didn’t “intend” to publicize the data. But given what happened in New York, there was an understandable distrust among gun owners here in Maine, who saw the request as the latest example of the rights of law-abiding gun owners being questioned following a massacre perpetrated by a criminal.

Concealed-weapons permit holders were understandably concerned that their personal information would be displayed in the local media like it was in New York.

Whenever one of these tragedies occurs, gun control advocates and many lawmakers at both the federal and state level begin to point the finger at responsible gun owners. There is always the predictable debate over what sorts of guns need to be banned and how many rounds of ammunition are acceptable in a clip.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently stated, “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer.” I would point out to Gov. Cuomo that no one “needs” to drive a car with a 350-horsepower engine, but as Americans, we are free to make the conscious decision to purchase one. The same applies to our right to own guns.

Most of the recent gun control rhetoric misses the point. The U.S. Constitution makes clear, and the Maine Constitution makes even clearer, that it is not the government’s role to determine whether law-abiding citizens have the right to possess weapons, and if so, how many weapons and rounds of ammunition they can keep.

The Maine Constitution is very clear. Article I, Section 16 states, “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.”

Responsible gun owners in Maine have plenty of reason to believe that this fundamental right is, indeed, being questioned.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, dozens of gun control bills have been submitted to the Legislature for the current session. Each one of these will get a fair hearing before the appropriate committees.

As the Senate Republican leader, however, I will do everything in my power to prevent any bill that compromises the rights of gun owners from becoming law.

Gov. Paul LePage recently sent a letter to President Obama, asking him to focus more on addressing the nation’s mental health issues, which are a common thread in all of the recent mass shootings around the nation. I believe the governor is taking the right approach on this issue.

Make no mistake – gun ownership is a right in the state of Maine, and the recent statewide outrage over a newspaper’s ill-conceived plan to undermine that right demonstrates how important that right is to our citizens.

 

- Special to the Press Herald