April 14, 2013

LePage courts gunmakers to come to Maine

Maine has already contacted two gun companies that have spoken of leaving their states.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

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Gov. Paul LePage, in an op-ed column for the Wall Street Journal published Saturday, touted Maine as a state that is "fiercely protective" of its gun rights.

The Associated Press


PORTLAND - Maine activists have joined demonstrations across the country to call for legislation to prevent gun violence.

Portland area community leaders gathered Saturday for a demonstration to call for congressional action to support measures such as the new bipartisan proposal to require background checks for commercial gun sales. WCSH-TV said they read the names of 33 gun-violence victims, including several Mainers, representing the 33 people killed in the U.S. each day in gun-related homicides

"We Have Not Forgotten and Demand Action" events were scheduled in more than a dozen states.

They are being held as Congress deliberates gun violence following the Dec. 14 massacre in Connecticut.

Opponents of expanded background checks say the legislation wouldn't do much because criminals would simply go around the system and obtain their guns illegally.

- The Associated Press

In the op-ed, LePage mentioned Richard Dyke, the former owner of Bushmaster Firearms and currently the president and CEO of Windham Weaponry, based in the Windham Business Park.

Dyke sold Bushmaster in 2006, and the company left Maine. He opened his new business in 2011. Dyke contributed $750 to LePage's 2010 campaign for governor.

In the op-ed, LePage, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, also said Maine has a tradition of supporting hunting outfitters such as Cabela's and L.L. Bean.

"Just as we welcome and support these companies and the jobs and opportunities they create, we would welcome and support the manufacturers of firearms and accessories," LePage wrote.

J. Thomas Franklin, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, a pro-gun control group, said he doesn't have a problem with LePage trying to woo gun companies to Maine.

But he does have a problem with LePage's approach, which he said leans too heavily on Maine's gun climate. Support for certain gun-control measures, such as mandatory background checks in private gun sales, shouldn't dissuade manufacturers, Franklin said.

"I'd like LePage to take pride in Maine's ability to develop a balanced approach to this issue instead of an extremist approach," he said.

"His statement that Maine is a gun-friendly state is a less attractive argument (than) a more subjective appeal to gun manufacturers saying Maine has learned how to balance these interests that are in conflict across the country."

LePage has long been a staunch opponent of sweeping gun control, although in his State of the State address in February, he said "we need to do something about getting guns away from abusers."

At a gun-rights rally in February, the Associated Press quoted LePage as saying: "The Constitution is very, very clear, and free people, law-abiding citizens, should have the ability to carry guns. That's what keeps us safe and free."

"While I'm your governor, they will not infringe on your rights," he said.

Bennett repeated that sentiment Saturday, saying LePage won't support laws "attacking" law-abiding citizens utilizing their Second Amendment rights.

In a 2010 video interview during his campaign, LePage said, "Everybody blames the gun manufacturers" for tragedies involving guns. "Everybody blames everybody but what's really happening."

"What's really happening is those without guns" or those who abide gun laws "become vulnerable to those who don't live by the law," he said then. "It's that simple."

LePage has also been vocal in Maine's recent debate over keeping identifying information on concealed-handgun permits confidential.

After a public-records request by the Bangor Daily News for information on each Maine permit was publicized on Valentine's Day, LePage's office released a picture of the governor holding his permit.

"If newspapers would like to know who has concealed weapons permits, then they should know the Governor has his," LePage said in a statement then. "I have serious concerns that (the) BDN's request will incite fear among gun owners and non-gun owners alike regarding their safety. There is no reason why these records should be public and I encourage the Legislature to act quickly to make this personal information confidential."

Just days later in the midst of an uproar from Maine's gun-rights grassroots, LePage signed an emergency bill making the information, including names, dates of birth and addresses, confidential temporarily while a bill to do so permanently was considered. The permanent bill was endorsed by a legislative committee earlier this month.

All but 11 legislators, all of them Democrats or liberal independents, voted to shield the information temporarily. The bill that did so was a LePage proposal sponsored by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.

"Maine Democrats, many of whom serve rural areas where hunting and gun ownership are a way of life, readily agree with Republicans that the rights of firearms owners must not be infringed," LePage wrote in the Wall Street Journal op-ed.

However, certain Democrats have introduced gun-control legislation. For example, Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, has a bill in to limit magazines to 10 rounds in Maine, though it likely won't see widespread support among Republicans or avoid LePage's veto pen.

"This bill is only one part of the solution," Alfond said in testimony before a committee on Monday. "I have no illusions that restricting access to these high-capacity magazines in and of itself will stop the next massacre, but it could reduce the number of lives lost."

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:


On Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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