December 23, 2012

Bill Nemitz: Gun-check system seriously impaired

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Bottom line, Maine's reporting system is not working. And while Lynch can't say for sure how many Mainers should be on the NICS but aren't, she does know that courts statewide received 5,076 petitions for involuntary commitment in the last five years.

Speaking for the Bureau of Identification, McCausland noted, "I suspect there are far more than a few dozen who should be on that list."

He added, "If we had the names, we would have submitted them. But we don't generate the names -- they come from the court system. We're just the messenger here."

So now what?

According to Lynch, the judicial branch just last month approved a paper form designed, however inefficiently, to improve communications on involuntary commitments between the courts and the Bureau of Identification.

"So we are slowly making progress," Lynch said. "But admittedly it's progress on a paper work-around."

And what say Maine's mayors?

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said he supports tightening the reporting system so that people who are clearly a danger to the community or themselves cannot walk into a local gun shop and walk out with an semi-automatic assault rifle.

But at the same time, Brennan said, ample research shows that people with mental illness, absent aggravating factors like substance abuse, are no more violent than the rest of society.

"So we need to make sure we're not casting the net so wide as to affect people and stigmatize people in ways that we shouldn't," said Brennan.

No argument there, Mr. Mayor. But if someone has been deemed dangerous enough to be hospitalized against his or her will, it's in nobody's interest for that person, upon being released, to have access to a handgun, an assault rifle or anything in between.

Augusta Mayor William Stokes, also a member of the national group, said he fully understands the difficulties faced by the courts as they try to meet 21st century reporting requirements with 20th century technology.

As chief of the Maine Attorney General's Office's criminal division, on the other hand, Stokes also appreciates better than most what can happen when a gun gets into the wrong hands.

"It can't be that hard," said Stokes. "Whatever the law says should be reported, should be reported."

While there's still time.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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