Politics

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

(Continued from page 1)

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

The Sunlight Foundation has reported that the NRA spent more than 4,100 times as much on last year's federal elections as the nation's leading gun control group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, $24.3 million to $5,816.

And the NRA has spent 73 times as much as the Brady Campaign lobbying the 112th Congress.

In Maine, L.D. 267 emerged from the Criminal Justice Committee on a mostly party-line vote. Several Democrats voted against it on Thursday, a signal that the bill is unlikely to pass.

Other gun control bills, including one sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, that would have limited the size of ammunition clips have been rejected in this session.

L.D. 1240, a comprehensive bill to require background checks on all gun purchases and prohibit sales to people who have been institutionalized for mental health issues, has not yet been voted out of the Criminal Justice Committee. 

Gun rights advocates say the loophole proposal adds unnecessary steps to buying a firearm, especially since most gun dealers are doing checks at gun shows.

Proponents of the bill cite a 15-year-old investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives that found gun shows were responsible for 26,000 illegally sold guns. The Northeast was responsible for 8 percent of those gun sales.

The loophole on private gun show sales surfaced after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. The shooters had bought their firearms at gun shows.

The issue has been perennial in Congress, where lawmakers have spurned laws to close the loophole despite persistent pressure from gun control advocates.

The ATF, which monitors gun shows to track sales, told the Arizona Republic in 2007 that it lacked resources to patrol adequately for illegal activity.

Each of the bureau's 25 field offices is required to monitor at least six gun shows every year. A report this year by the U.S. Department of Justice inspector general said 18 of the field offices, or 72 percent, met the goal in fiscal year 2011.

The field offices in Boston -- the division that oversees Maine -- New York and Newark, N.J., were among those that didn't meet the inspection quota.

The Maine Senate also voted 20-15 Thursday against repealing a two-year-old law that allows concealed-handgun permit holders to leave their guns in their vehicles at work even if their employers prohibit it.

The bill, backed by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, touched off a debate between business groups and gun-rights advocates. Businesses argued that employers should have the right to determine what happens on their property. Opponents said that employees' vehicles are private property and that repealing the law would effectively deny workers the right to defend themselves.

L.D. 265 was sponsored by Gerzofsky. He said the law passed in 2011 fixed a problem that "didn't exist."

Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, said she had received complaints from employers about the law and urged its repeal.

The 2011 bill was sponsored by Rep. Richard Cebra, who now is chairman of the Maine Republican Party, and supported by the NRA. Only 13 Democratic legislators voted to enact the law, while 16 Republicans broke ranks to oppose it.

On Thursday, a handful of Democrats voted with Republicans to help defeat the repeal effort.

The bill requires additional votes in the House and Senate.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

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