AUGUSTA — In a largely symbolic vote Tuesday, a narrow majority in the House supported a gun control bill that was weakened since it was first proposed earlier this year.
The 78-64 House vote likely means that L.D. 1240, sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff, will die between that body and the Senate, which passed a version of the bill Monday. It faces further action in the Senate.
When the bill was introduced earlier this year, it was a sweeping gun-control measure. It would have mandated background checks before all private gun sales and certification or training before all gun purchases, even private sales.
Mandatory background checks poll well nationally and in Maine. In a poll of 403 Mainers conducted last month by Pan Atlantic SMS Group of Portland, nearly 90 percent of those surveyed supported background checks on private and gun show sales.
Still, Dion’s bill was stripped of those provisions, which were nonstarters with virtually all legislative Republicans, many Democrats, the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
“If not today, soon, background checks will pass,” Dion, D-Portland, said on the House floor. “Patience always wins and I am a patient person.”
By the time the House initially approved the bill in a 78-66 vote on Thursday, the bill’s strongest provision would have created a first-time civil violation for selling a gun to a person prohibited from owning a firearm, such as a convicted felon. A seller would have a partial or complete defense to prosecution if he had a background check done on the buyer.
But Rep. James Campbell, I-Newfield, joining all 55 Republicans to vote against the measure on Tuesday, said that would unnecessarily criminalize Mainers.
“I’ve gotten a lot compliments in this House for my compassion for the elderly, the poor and the disabled,” he said. “I am by no means a person that would do any harm or speak for guns if I thought I was doing the wrong thing.”
The version the Senate passed Monday, however, struck that violation, leaving provisions to make intentional or knowing sale to a person prohibited from having a gun, such as a convicted felon, a Class D misdemeanor and increasing the fine for giving a false name to a dealer from $50 to $1,000.
That version, supported by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, passed the Senate unanimously without roll call. But in the Tuesday vote, the House stuck to the version it passed Thursday, meaning the bill will die if it doesn’t get more Senate votes.
On Monday, J. Thomas Franklin, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, a pro-gun control group, called the Senate action “a huge disappointment,” saying it created “a toothless violation.”
But he also said his group is planning to bring a citizens’ initiative to ask voters to decide on mandatory background checks in 2014, adding that overwhelming public opinion on the subject will make it “a slam dunk.”
Now, only three states, California, Connecticut and New York, require background checks before all gun sales, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Also on Tuesday, the House finally rejected L.D. 267, a bill sponsored by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, that would have mandated background checks before gun show purchases. That vote killed the bill, as the Senate rejected it in May.
Under federal law, gun dealers now must do background checks on buyers, wherever they sell guns. Private sellers, such as those selling through Uncle Henry’s, a Maine publication, or certain gun show sellers, don’t have to do the checks.
That said, David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, told the Portland Press Herald earlier this year that the vast majority of gun shows in Maine require all sellers do background checks on buyers.
Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at: