January 13, 2013

Our View: State should pursue centrist gun regulation

All sides of the issue should be able to agree on mandatory background checks for all sales.

Gun regulation has always been considered the third rail of Maine politics. Once networks of gun rights advocates are activated, lawmakers hear from constituents.

What usually carries the day is a "slippery slope" argument, claiming that any restriction, no matter how focused, would eventually lead to disarming the public. This would violate not only the Second Amendment, but also the much stronger language of the Maine Constitution, which says the right to keep and bear arms "shall not be questioned."

That's the history. But that does not mean that it is also the future.

A poll commissioned by the Maine Sunday Telegram indicates that there is far more middle ground than many people might have assumed.

Yes, Maine does have a high rate of gun ownership -- 55 percent of households report having at least one firearm. But that doesn't mean most people are in the extreme camps of the national gun policy debate.

Most Mainers think there should be some regulation of gun ownership. Very few think there should be no regulation. Even fewer think there should be no legal gun ownership.

The question is where we should draw the line, and what can be best handled as a state or what should be left to the federal government.

A good place to start would be enforcing the laws that are already on the books, particularly when it comes to background checks for gun buyers. Currently, there is a gaping loophole in the law that requires only licensed gun dealers to screen buyers to make sure they are not felons or people who have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution. That means as many as 40 percent of sales are not subject to these checks.

Several states require universal background checks, and Maine should join them. This is not about confiscating guns, or interfering with hunting or self-defense for law-abiding citizens. It would not question anybody's rights or lead down a slippery slope.

Closing the loophole doesn't create a new regulation, but it could keep a gun out of the wrong hands.

 

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