February 19, 2013

Maine police project to give unwanted guns a home

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Do you have an unwanted gun you'd rather give to someone who'd appreciate it?

click image to enlarge

Maine State Police Sgt. Michael Edes (center), talks about a new gun donation program Tuesday, February 19, 2013, with Falmouth Police Sgt. Franke Soule (left) and Falmouth Police Lt. John Kilbride. On the table is a collection of guns that people have turned into the public over the past year, including a Winchester 12 gauge shotgun that was donated to the Cumberland Police Department on Monday.

Tom Bell / Staff Writer

You could sell it to a pawn shop or a stranger, but the Maine State Police and three Cumberland County police departments say they have better idea: Give the gun to the police, who will sell it to a dealer and give the proceeds to Special Olympics Maine.

The new initiative, called the "Safe Communities Maine" project, will begin Saturday. Police officers at the Yarmouth, Cumberland and Falmouth police stations will be collecting guns and offering free gun locks and gun safety advice. Maine State Police troopers at the Troop B Barracks in Gray will also participate.

The police agencies say they want to do their part to increase gun safety and remove unwanted guns from people's homes, but do not want to get involved in a potentially controversial gun buy-back program in which all the guns collected are destroyed, said Maine State Police Sgt. Michael Edes, one of the organizers.

There are many people who have guns in their home but they are "not gun people," he said. "We are giving people an avenue to dispose of them and donate all the proceeds to charity," he said.

He said police chose to give the money to Special Olympics Maine because it's the primary nonprofit group supported by police departments throughout the state.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Connecticut in December, cities and police departments across the country have organized events to buy back guns, hoping that fewer firearms on the street will translate to fewer shooting deaths. In such programs, the guns are destroyed.

However, gun-rights activists oppose buy-back programs because they "imply that something is scary and wrong with firearms," said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportman's Alliance of Maine.

He said he sees nothing wrong with the Save Communities Maine project because the guns are put back in circulation.

Edes said many of those expected to participate in the program are widows of hunters who would like to see their husbands' cherished rifles put to good use, but don't want to deal with selling a gun to a stranger. People who have inherited guns are also expected to use the program, he said.

Because police will sell the guns to a gun dealer, Howell's Archery Center in Gray, a background check will be performed to make sure buyers are purchasing them legally.

Edes and the three participating police departments believe that background checks should be performed on all gun purchases, including private sales. Maine law currently exempts private sales from the requirement for background checks.

The Maine Legislature this spring will debate whether to remove that exemption for all private gun sales, except for those between family members.

The participating police agencies will also be accepting ammunition during Saturday's event. They typically do not accept ammunition because it is difficult to dispose of. Police will be accepting items between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Residents from any town in Maine will be able to participate. The program will continue all year and may eventually be adopted statewide, said Edes, who is president of the Maine State Troopers Association, the union that represents state troopers.

Police aren't sure what kind of guns they'll see Saturday. Falmouth Police Chief Ed Tolan noted that a Falmouth man in 2010 turned in a Civil War-era cannonball filled with gunpowder.

A few years ago, a widow of a World War II soldier gave police a Lewis Gun, a machine gun that was commonly used as an aircraft machine gun during both world wars. He said Falmouth police gave that weapon to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives.

"This isn't about gun control," Tolan said. "This is about safety in the home."

Tom Franklin, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, said he approves of the program, although its impact on reducing gun violence may be modest.

"Any program that gets guns to more responsible hands benefits the public," he said.

Phil Geelhoed, president and CEO of Special Olympics Maine, said he appreciates that police are supporting the nonprofit.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at

tbell@pressherald.com

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