When Maine is confronting genuine problems (budget deficits, welfare cutbacks, lackluster economic growth, to name a few), why does the Legislature spend so much time messing around with gun laws?

Last session, the Legislature required employers to allow employees to bring guns to work — over the strong opposition of the Chamber of Commerce and many employers who view guns at work as bad for business and dangerous for everyone.

(In the same session, the Legislature voted to continue to ban guns from the State House, yet voted to prohibit cities and towns from banning guns at their meetings.)

In the current legislative session, which is supposedly restricted to emergency measures, two really extraordinary emergencies have been identified.

The first is that employees of the state are not allowed to bring guns to work. The Criminal Justice Committee and the House have approved L.D. 1603 that would correct this terrible discrimination against state employees by giving them the same right to pack heat at the office that private-sector employees were given last year.

L.D. 1859, unanimously passed by the Criminal Justice Committee, would address the second pressing emergency: Under current Maine law, it is possible that at some future date the governor would declare a state of emergency and then would (gasp!) try to restrict the right to own or use guns. L.D. 1859 would prohibit any such restriction.

(Some legislators even demonstrated short-term memory loss by arguing that restrictions on Second Amendment rights were unconstitutional — but if that were so, how could they ban guns from the State House?)

More guns everywhere long has been an NRA objective. Boosting gun sales pleases their gun manufacturer industry supporters, “normalizing” carrying of guns in public pleases their members who like flaunting their weapons, and defying sensible restrictions on gun possession pleases their politicized members who consider any gun restrictions to be un-American.

Many of us — including many gun owners and hunters — do not support these NRA views but we can understand where they are coming from.

What is much harder to understand is the knee-jerk acquiescence of the Maine Legislature to these views.

Do Maine voters really consider these to be emergencies that demand immediate legislative attention, or did a few legislators see political opportunity in jumping onto an NRA bandwagon?

What Maine voters think actually is not a mystery — a Pan Atlantic SMS Group poll in 2008 recorded 78 percent support for mandatory background checks for all handgun sales in Maine. (Background checks are not required for sales at gun shows or sales by private sellers, such as through Uncle Henry’s.) There is no evidence that Maine voters share the NRA dream of “guns everywhere.”

In fact, Maine voters have pretty sensible views on guns. Maine does not have a gun crime problem, but it does have a gun violence problem.

The problem has many dimensions: too much domestic violence made worse by guns, too many teenage suicides with guns, and worst — Maine’s lax gun laws literally draw drug dealers to Maine to buy guns and to sell drugs. Maine recently became the No.1 source of guns used in crimes in Massachusetts.

Maine has more guns than residents. It has more gun dealers than post offices. It has no restrictions on carrying guns openly in public. It is one of the few states that does not report to the federal database used to disqualify gun purchasers the names of persons found to be mentally unstable, so they can buy guns in Maine and everywhere.

No one wants to seize guns from lawful owners, but only a vocal few want less regulation rather than more.

Background checks, for example, only enforce existing law, something the NRA has always claimed to support and a measure clearly supported by a large majority of Maine voters.

Contrary to extremist claims, and as this example illustrates, policy differences between gun owners and a majority of the public are only around the edges.

Maine has a proud tradition of responsible gun ownership, safe hunting practices and sportsman-like appreciation of the Maine woods.

Exalting gun ownership as an end in itself, cynically protecting legislators from gun violence while denying others even the option of trying to so protect themselves, making “emergencies” out of thin air and generally treating guns as so special, are insults to that Maine tradition as well as lousy legislative priorities.

Maine deserves better.

J. Thomas Franklin of Portland is president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.


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