June 19, 2013

Maine Legislature passes well-diluted gun-control bill

Aimed at encouraging background checks before private sales, the bill faces a likely LePage veto.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A watered-down gun-control bill aimed at encouraging background checks before private gun sales narrowly passed Wednesday in the Legislature.

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The Maine Senate passed a bill that would create a first-time civil violation for selling a gun to a person prohibited from owning a gun, such as a convicted felon.

The Associated Press

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Earlier in the day, two Democrats in the Senate switched their votes to help party leaders pass the bill.

The Senate voted 18-17 Wednesday afternoon to enact L.D. 1240, sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, after the House voted 78-71 to pass a version of it.

It now goes to Gov. Paul LePage, who will likely veto it. The bill has drawn little Republican support, and the governor's spokeswoman said in April that LePage won't support laws "attacking" law-abiding citizens' gun rights.

In a prepared statement after an initial Senate vote on Wednesday, Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, called the bill "a common-sense measure that helps keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them."

The current version is opposed by the National Rifle Association, which sent an email to members Friday urging them to ask lawmakers to oppose the bill, saying it "attacks" private firearm transfers and "seeks to make drastic and unnecessary changes to current firearms laws that will unduly place law-abiding citizens at risk."

The bill is a shadow of the original. When L.D. 1240 was introduced earlier this year, it would have mandated background checks before all private gun sales and permitting before all gun purchases, even private sales.

The version the Senate passed Wednesday would create a civil violation for selling a gun to a person prohibited from owning a gun, such as a convicted felon. A seller would get partial or complete defense from prosecution by having a background check done on the buyer.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, said Monday that he would support the bill if that provision were eliminated.

"I don't know how you'd police it other than having undercover police going around trying to buy guns from people," he said. "There were a lot of unintended consequences that I don't think were thought out."

That provision is now at issue between Democrats and Republicans. The House initially passed the bill Thursday in a 78-64 vote, but the Senate rejected it Monday 19-16, unanimously supporting a further weakened version.

Then the House affirmed its prior action in a 78-66 vote Tuesday, sending it back to the Senate, which agreed Wednesday to pass it.

Senate Democratic spokeswoman Ericka Dodge said two Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall of Richmond and John Tuttle of Sanford, switched their positions to pass the bill Wednesday.

She said Goodall's vote Monday was a procedural one to ensure that the Senate could reconsider its vote, and Goodall is "a strong advocate of background checks."

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

 

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