April 28, 2013

Sportsmen’s leaders, old and new, embody Maine group’s growing rift

David Trahan’s hard line against gun control is in marked contrast with predecessor George Smith at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — David Trahan, whose hard-charging style as a Republican lawmaker earned him the nickname “Pitbull,” is bringing that same tenacity to his job as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, an organization that is poised to play a key role on gun control legislation that is moving to the forefront in the Maine Legislature this week.

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George Smith and David Trahan

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David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, walks up to the State House in Augusta for an afternoon of lobbying on gun legislation issues last Wednesday.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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It’s too early to say exactly how Trahan will influence the debate. Already, he has presented a sharp contrast to his predecessor George Smith, who served as the Sportsman’s Alliance’s public face for 18 years. Smith’s style was as smooth and laid-back as any lobbyist in the State House before he stepped down from SAM in 2010 to focus on a new career as a writer.

The contrast between the two men is even more evident now because they are testifying on the same gun control issues – Trahan as the leader of a group with 8,000 dues-paying members, and Smith as a private citizen.

But while the two men have headed the same organization, Trahan so far has taken a hard-line position opposing more than 20 gun control bills before the Legislature, while Smith has sought to forge a compromise between advocates for gun rights and gun control.

Smith, 64, is telling lawmakers that many gun owners would support a bill that would require background checks for private gun sales, but only if the bill also allowed people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. He said the permits aren’t effective in preventing gun violence.

Smith said he has heard from many gun owners who support the compromise.

“There are plenty of sportsmen in this state who are more reasonable and less heard from and are not as well represented in the state,” Smith said. “I have been kind of speaking for them.”

Trahan, however, said he doubts any of the proposed gun control bills, such as the ban on high-capacity magazines or extending background checks to private sales, will pass. While he says he is always open to talking to anyone, he doesn’t see the need to work with gun-control advocates on any deals.

“I don’t think there will be much we can find in common on new gun control,” he said.

Trahan said Smith’s current political activity has confused some people because of his long association with SAM. Earlier this month, many of the group’s members became angry over a public service announcement in which Smith urged private gun sellers to run background checks on buyers they don’t know.

On television, the ad identified Smith as a former executive director of SAM. But when Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, which paid for the ad, posted it on its website, the video was billed as “George Smith, Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, Promotes Background Checks.”

In a letter to the Kennebec Journal, Trahan said the sportsman’s group has supported the voluntary application of background checks for private sales in the past.

“Given the current highly charged political debate about gun regulation, however, we think it is important the public understand the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is no longer associated with Smith and his current political actions,” he wrote.

Smith said the Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence mistakenly identified him on the website and that the error was corrected immediately. The ad was produced last fall before gun control became such a big issue.

While people remember him for his work at the helm of SAM, Smith said, he always makes sure people know he’s now speaking on his own behalf.

“It’s that my personal views now are slightly different than SAM’s views,” Smith said. “There is nothing I can do about it. I did the best I could for 18 years and now I have a chance to speak my mind.”

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Maj. Christopher Grotton of the Maine State Police, left, speaks with David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, about gun issues in a hallway at the State House in Augusta last Wednesday.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

 


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Today's poll: Sportsman’s Alliance

Do you agree with the new direction the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is taking?

Yes

No

View Results