February 10, 2013

Many sales of firearms in Maine fall under the radar

Private gun transactions require no background checks and little paperwork, and they are almost impossible to trace.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Other sellers have their own stipulations.

Gary Paradis said he will not sell his handgun unless the buyer has a state ID and a concealed-weapons permit. A part-time police officer with 14 years of military service, Paradis said he supports proper firearms training. A concealed weapons permit shows that the carrier has had a background check and some level of safety training, he said.

"And I'm going to talk to you (before meeting to sell the gun)," Paradis said. "If I don't have a good gut feeling, I will not relinquish a weapon." While a strong believer in the Second Amendment, Paradis said he also firmly believes in the need for some gun control.

"It's a fine line," he added.

GUNS FLOW FROM STATE TO STATE

ATF data show that between 2006 and 2011, an average of 8.3 percent of the guns traced in Massachusetts originated in Maine, which consistently vies with New Hampshire as the top source of out-of-state guns recovered in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has among the tightest gun laws in the nation, at the heart of which is mandatory licensing for all would-be gun owners. Applicants must undergo a background check and reference check, which takes time, and law enforcement has more discretion to deny licenses.

Pro-regulation academics who study gun policies say such scenarios can be seen across the country, as guns flow from states with less stringent laws to those with tighter laws.

"There are very predictable and consistent associations between the relative strength of gun control laws in states and illegal gun channels," Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in an email.

This trend is particularly pronounced in the Northeast, Webster wrote, where Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey have strict gun laws and among the lowest percentages of crime guns traced back to sales within those states.

Between 2006 and 2011, 75 percent of the guns successfully traced in Maine originated in Maine. By comparison, the percentage of "homegrown" guns during that same period was 35 percent in Massachusetts, 31 percent in New York and 24 percent in New Jersey, according to the ATF data.

"The guns used in those states are overwhelmingly from states with weak gun laws, sometimes from states hundreds of miles away," Webster wrote.

'BACKDOOR GUN REGISTRATION'

Pro-gun groups such as the NRA and Gun Owners of America disagree with such conclusions, arguing that criminals care nothing for laws and will find ways to acquire guns. Instead, they say universal background checks will only impede law-abiding citizens' ability to sell a firearm to a neighbor, gift a gun to a family member or lend a rifle to a hunting buddy.

Additionally, the NRA points out repeatedly that the Obama administration only prosecuted 44 people in 2010 for lying on a background check form among the more than 72,000 rejected by the NICS system that year.

"If the Obama administration currently doesn't have the time or manpower to prosecute those who lie on background check forms, then why do they want more background checks, more paperwork and more forms? It's backdoor gun registration," Marion Hammer, a past president of the NRA, wrote recently in a column posted on the organization's website.

Right or wrong, some in Maine are concerned about a national gun-owner registry and potential government misuse of it, said David Trahan, director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine. Absent a centralized federal database, Trahan does not see how a universal background check system would be enforceable because someone has to keep the records.

Others have raised concerns that dealers -- already struggling to keep up with demand -- will be buried in paperwork if they are expected to conduct the checks under a universal system.

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