As a police chief, I know background checks save lives.

When you are in my line of work, you become way too familiar with the dangers that occur when dangerous people who shouldn’t have a gun get them.

That’s why it’s critical that Maine close the loopholes in our state law that make it too easy for criminals and other dangerous people to easily purchase guns with no criminal background check, no questions asked.

This fall, voters will have an opportunity to support a ballot initiative that will make Maine safer by requiring background checks on all gun purchases, with reasonable exceptions for family members, hunting and self-defense.

Under current law, background checks are only required for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers. But people can easily and anonymously buy guns from unlicensed sellers — often from strangers met online, at gun shows or through classified ads — with no background check.

These unlicensed sales can — and do — happen in public places, creating a huge risk for the people of our state.

A recent tragedy comes to mind. In November 2015, 22-year-old Chelsea Jones, a mother of two from Thomaston, was unintentionally shot and killed in a Shaw’s parking lot. She was there with her fiancé, who was meeting another man to sell a handgun through an unlicensed sale. Just last week, Jones’ fiancé was charged with manslaughter in the incident, as well as felony possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

No one can say for certain that closing the background check loophole would have saved this young woman’s life.

But I can say for certain that fixing this law would require that transactions like this would no longer be allowed to take place in supermarket parking lots or near places kids play. That would make state residents safer in our everyday lives.

For this reason and so many others, 80 percent of Mainers agree that the state should require that everyone buying a gun in Maine gets the same criminal background check, no matter where they buy them or who they buy them from.

Maine has a long tradition of responsible gun ownership, but the sad truth is that there is a flourishing, unregulated market for unlicensed gun sales like this in our state.

As an officer of the law and a gun owner, I support the right to bear arms as guaranteed by the U.S. and Maine constitutions. I also know that with those rights come responsibilities, which include keeping guns out of the hands of convicted felons, people with dangerous mental illnesses and domestic abusers.

Mainers understand this instinctively. That’s why advocates and volunteers easily collected more than 85,000 signatures to place the background check initiative on the November 2016 ballot with support from every town in the state, a coalition of law enforcement officers, sportsmen and gun owners, survivors of gun violence and more than 200 dedicated volunteers.

The facts about background checks are clear and compelling. In states that require background checks on all handgun sales, 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers are shot to death with handguns, 46 percent fewer women are shot and killed by their intimate partners and there are 48 percent fewer firearm suicides.

Maine is a safe place to live, but even here gun violence is a problem.

In the last decade, 132 Maine residents were murdered with guns, and an additional 1,040 died in firearm suicides. More than half of suicides in the state were committed with guns.

No law can prevent every crime committed with a gun, but we can save lives and make our communities, our families, and our law enforcement officers safer by requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales.

Closing the loopholes in the background check system is common sense. That’s why I will be voting yes on this critical ballot measure.


Mike Field is the chief of police for the city of Bath.

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