Founding Father Benjamin Franklin is believed to have been the author of a letter that contained this oft-quoted sentence: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

His words have resonated in a society in which the power of government has swelled as both internal and external threats proliferated.

Still, their relevance to any discussion depends on the weight assigned to the word “essential.”

I can give up a nonessential freedom (for example, not wearing a seat belt) much more readily than an essential one (being forbidden to drive when and where I wish after I buckle up).

That’s where the discussion should begin when we ponder Question 3 in the Nov. 8 referendum.

In essence, the bill would require all gun sales, and (here’s the hidden kicker) all “transfers” of firearms, to be processed through a federally licensed dealer.

The licensee would, for a fee, perform a federal background check to be sure the recipient is legally entitled to possess the transferred weapon.

Requiring all sales to be processed would void the current state law permitting private sales without background checks (sometimes called the “gun show loophole” – though most private sales do not occur at gun shows, and the organizers of most shows require a check for any transaction).

Is surrendering that right merely forgoing an “nonessential liberty”? As academic studies have verified, very few criminals get their weapons by buying them themselves.

The vast majority either get them from people who bought them legally at their behest (“straw buyers”), or buy them on the street from other illegal owners, or steal them.

All those acts are already federal crimes. This bill will not make them any more illegal, and thus its rationale is nonexistent. Why pass a freedom-limiting law for little or no benefit?

But what’s even more upsetting to thousands of Mainers is that including firearm transfers will make law-abiding Mainers vulnerable to committing a crime (on second offense, a felony) for an act that offers absolutely no risk to public safety.

Question 3 defines “transfer” broadly: “to sell, furnish, give, lend, deliver or otherwise provide, with or without consideration.” While it exempts certain “family members” from its prohibitions, great-grandparents are oddly excluded, and the bill’s other exemptions are also strange.

For example, Question 3 says you could legally let someone use your gun without going through the mandatory approval process if the firearm transfer “is temporary and is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm,” or if it takes place “at an established shooting range” or “a lawfully organized competition,” or occurs while “hunting or trapping,” or while “in the actual presence of the transferor.”

What would be illegal (and remember, potentially felonious), according to an analysis by the pro-gun group Gun Owners of Maine, would be lending a gun to Joe or Jane, whom you’ve known all your life, on the way to the range; or letting them take it on a hunting trip, or just out to the back 40 to shoot, without you along; or offering one to them if they are being threatened, but are not under attack at that exact moment.

Further, Gun Owners of Maine says, “The law is unenforceable as it stands. Law enforcement has no way to know, and no way to check, if a firearm owner complied with the law when he obtained the firearm.”

That carries this obvious implication: “The only way to enforce it is to institute a universal firearms registration program,” which in other nations has routinely been a prelude to firearm confiscation.

Mainers have always been jealous of their civil rights regarding firearms. In 1987, voters passed a constitutional amendment reading, “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.” (Article 1, Section 16)

And last year, they approved a law to allow the “constitutional carry” of weapons (that is, without permits, which were not on anyone’s mind when the Second Amendment was adopted).

Are the same voters going to diminish their gun rights at the behest of a group backed by out-of-state activists and financed by gun-hating billionaire Michael Bloomberg (whose bodyguards, by the way, carry guns for his protection)?

(Yes, the National Rifle Association is also an “out-of-state” group. But it has thousands of Maine members, something Bloomberg can’t claim.)

With the former New York mayor’s crime-ridden hometown in mind, the “No on 3” campaign adopted the slogan, “Don’t NYC My Gun Rights.”

But it could just as easily substitute Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit or Washington, D.C., to mention some of the cities whose gun laws are far more restrictive than Maine’s – and murder-by-firearm rates are far higher.

Why should we import their liberty-subverting failures when what we do now works fine?

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

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