Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Thom Watson of Bath says Maine hunters might be willing to give up high-capacity magazines. "Nobody I know carries them," he said.
Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer
Sarah Russell poses Friday with her children, from left, Olivia, 9; Annie, 7; George, 3; and Charles, 5, in Cumberland. Russell supports hunting and gun ownership rights and allows hunting on her property, but she also believes in tighter restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
The poll also found a gender divide: 85 percent of Maine women favor some restrictions on guns, compared to 72 percent of Maine men.
Sarah Russell, a Cumberland mother with four young children, said her husband has killed rodents on their 40-acre farm with a shotgun, and her grandfather was an avid duck hunter.
She said hunting is an important part of Maine's heritage, and she doesn't want to interfere with it. Still, the Sandy Hook shootings were frightening, she said, and she wants to see tighter restrictions on assault weapons, magazine capacity and also the requirement for background checks for private sales. In Maine, such sales are exempt from background checks.
"More background checks doesn't hurt anybody," she said. "The NRA's stance that more guns increases people's safety is really harming the rights of responsible gun owners."
The high percentage of Mainers willing to ban semi-automatic weapons reflects a widespread misunderstanding about the weapon, said Thom Watson, a former state lawmaker from Bath who serves on the board of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.
He said self-loading rifles have a valid place in the hunting world and that many popular hunting rifles are semi-automatics. They're easier to use and clean, he said.
Maine hunters would be much more willing to give up high-capacity magazines, which are not useful for hunting, he said, adding that his opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.
"Nobody I know carries them."
Gun ownership is significantly higher in the northern half of the state, with 68 percent of residents in Aroostook, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset counties reporting that they have a gun on their property, compared to 46 percent of residents in York and Cumberland counties.
In the north, 40 percent support a ban on semi-automatic weapons, while 56 percent in the south support such a ban.
In the north, 54 percent support a ban on high-capacity magazines, while 63 percent in the south support such a ban.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, said the poll results do not surprise him. Maine gun owners and sportsmen are responsible people, and many could consider supporting reasonable restrictions, he said.
Still, the strident rhetoric of anti-gun advocates may cause gun owners to resist change, particularly in rural areas, he said.
"People who live in rural parts of the state are strongly opposed to gun regulations," he said. "The gun is precious to them for defending their family. They are not going to give it up."
With about 180,000 licensed hunters, Maine has more hunters per capita than most states. A densely populated state such as Massachusetts, for example, has five times the population but only a third of the number of hunters.
Unlike Massachusetts, though, Maine has some of the least-restrictive gun laws in the nation.
Gun rights groups, such as the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, have enjoyed considerable clout in the Maine Legislature, with both Republicans and Democrats. But public opinion about gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings may cause lawmakers to reconsider their reluctance to anger the gun rights lobby, said William Harwood, founder of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence. He noted that Maine lawmakers this year are expected to submit about 50 bills aimed at curbing gun violence.
"It is time for our elected officials to act in response to the majority of Maine citizens, not a small but vocal minority who might have extremist views about gun rights," Harwood said.
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Charles Harrison, 73, seen Friday at his farm in Lyman, owns five guns and says there should be no government restrictions on gun ownership. "As far as regulations, what we have now is pretty good," Harrison says.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer