May 30, 2013

Maine Senate rejects 'gun show loophole' bill

The proposal calls for background checks by private sellers at shows, but that's too small a problem for concern, foes say.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA – Amid the ongoing national debate over the effectiveness of gun control in preventing gun violence, the state Senate voted 19-16 Thursday to reject a bill to require background checks for all firearms buyers at gun shows.

click image to enlarge

In this January 19, 2013 file photo, Sid Strom from Norway, ME waits for the opening for the Augusta Gun Show at the Augusta Civic Center. The Maine Senate voted 19-16 on Thursday, May 30, 2013 to defeat a bill that would require background checks for all firearms sales at gun shows, a major loophole that allows violent offenders to easily get their hands on weapons, gun-control advocates say.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

L.D. 267 is designed to stop private sales of guns unless buyers are screened for past criminal activity. Its supporters echoed calls from prominent national Democrats, including President Obama, who say that closing the "gun show loophole" is one of several needed steps to keep guns away from violent offenders.

Licensed dealers in Maine already are required to run background checks on buyers at gun shows, but private sellers are not.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, would require private sellers at gun shows to request background checks. Failure to do so could result in a civil penalty of $2,500 for the first violation and $5,000 for subsequent violations.

Gerzofsky said the bill is aimed at weeding out the small portion of buyers who go to gun shows looking for private sellers who don't have to do background checks.

"Those are the people that I think should go through background checks: the ones that don't think they can pass," he said.

Opponents of the bill said it would do little to prevent gun violence.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said much of the testimony at a public hearing in April over-dramatized problems with gun show sales.

"To listen to some of the testimony, one would think the gun show loophole is as big as the Holland Tunnel, when in reality, it isn't as big as the eye of a needle," he said. "It is a very, very, very small problem."

That argument, along with the influence of the National Rifle Association, has persuaded Maine lawmakers to reject previous efforts to close the loophole.

Recent research shows that gun shows account for a small percentage of private sales, and that enforcement of laws aimed at closing the loophole in other states is lax.

Nonetheless, lawmakers in at least eight other states have considered similar measures this year in response to December's elementary school shootings in Newton, Conn. Those efforts are producing mixed results, as is a parallel effort in Congress. 

According to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, six states require background checks on all firearm sales at gun shows: California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island. Three others, Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania, require background checks on all handgun sales at gun shows.

Eight others -- Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Nebraska and North Carolina -- require buyers to get permits and background checks before buying handguns. 

Thirty-three states, including Maine, have either rejected gun show loophole legislation or never considered it. 

The Maine bill faced an uphill climb from the start. 

The NRA's political action committee has spent more than $137,200 on Maine legislative elections since 2002. The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, which bills itself as a hunting advocacy group, has spent more than $175,000.

Richard Dyke, who once owned Bushmaster Firearms in Windham, has spent more than $68,000 on Maine elections and legislative candidates.

By contrast, the political arm of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence has spent $9,228 since 2002.

Lobbying reports for the current legislative session are not yet complete.

From 2002 to 2012, Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence spent more on lobbying state lawmakers than the NRA, $43,799 to $29,125. The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine spent $110,039 over the same period.

(Continued on page 2)

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