Jackie Sartoris

Jackie Sartoris

Do facts and truth matter in creating public policy? Perhaps it depends on whether the goal is winning, or the common good. Two current debates illustrate the way that facts, and their opposite, shape our public discourse and decisions. The state referendum on universal background checks for guns, and the local discussion concerning public water access on Mere Point in Brunswick.

Right now, in Maine, anyone can go to Uncle Henry’s or an online site, and buy a gun, private sale, no questions asked. A recent study low-balled these available guns at 3000 in one year. Loose gun sales are linked to crimes committed in Maine and in other states. Law enforcement officials know Maine is haven for illicit gun purchases. Heroin comes up the coast, Maine’s loose guns travel south, a drugs-to-guns exchange that enriches the bad guys, and creates Maine addicts. This is a major reason that Maine’s Chiefs of Police Association supports Question 3. And because background checks work. States requiring universal background checks report 48% fewer deaths of police officers from gun violence, and 46% fewer gun deaths from domestic violence. Universal background checks level the playing field for commercial establishments that must already require background checks. These are facts.

So pity the fearful folks at the

Maine Heritage Policy Center. Without facts, they’ve got to fight with something else. Thus the conservative “research organization” — a phrase searching for its self-respect — resorted to complete fabrication in their recent, vaguely hysterical, piece (Sept. 1).

Question 3, they claim, will “make criminals out of law-abiding citizens.” Wow. A background check, already required for all commercial gun sales, turns people into criminals? OK. But, wait, MPHC, in a rendition of the Second Amendment that defies history and the text, says background checks will “strip you of your inalienable rights.” Background checks don’t strip any rights, they simply keep those we have legally determined should not have guns from all-too easy acquisition. There is no “right” to no-questions instant transfers of guns, and the proposal provides broad exemptions for family transfers and loans during hunting and target shooting. But expecting this “research” organization to research is a bridge too far when it might result in inconvenient facts.

Mere Point Misinformation

Access to our public coast provides

another example of how misinformation benefits power over good public policy. Many Mere Pointers seem opposed to sharing the public water that makes valuable their private homes. A self-interested but understandable position, that merits care in developing public waterfront access. The question for the Council is whether the public interest — long-established and consistent in its recognition that all Brunswick residents deserve greater access to our public coastal waters — should trump the opponent’s non-ending demand for no public water access on Mere Point, no matter how sensitively done, or appropriate the site.

The public interest, however, is not the debate opponents want to have, perhaps because it seems elitist. Instead, the summer has been dominated by a fact-free, expensive exercise in manufactured wedge issues. First, we’ve had the opponent’s purported concern for the former landowner, demanding that he be given back the property, despite his demonstrated disinterest in paying his taxes and many opportunities to redeem it. Opponents covertly funded an attorney, who gave the appearance of representing the former owner, while in fact he represented the opposition. Opponents claim the Council will “ruin” the former owner’s life, if they honor the Brunswick residents and veterans who actually bother to pay their property taxes by providing them with access to the public’s water. Opponents hired another attorney, to threaten the Town with lawsuits if they proceed with public access. Finally, opponents point to a ludicrously unsuitable conservation parcel across the Bay, claiming that they are so interested in public access (conveniently not near them!) that they will help raise money to ship the public to Bunganuc preserve.

I served on the Council during the Bunganuc preservation decision. Federal and state funds prohibit paving a road or even adding paths down the extremely long — three-quarter mile — path to the shore, crossing wetlands and far, far away from the parking area. This parcel primarily serves ecological benefits. It is lousy water access for people. The shoreline is extraordinarily tidal, almost entirely mudflat and bluffs, with 2000 feet of mudflat from the tiny rocky ledge out to water at low tide, as opposed to the Mere Point parcel.

The Mere Point property, level, 4.1 acres, with a manageable drop to the water that can accommodate steps, is simply the last best opportunity for quality access for all Brunswick residents on Mere Point. I don’t blame the opponents for not wanting to share the public’s water. But I hope we will hold the Council accountable for making a decision in the public interest, based on facts.

Jackie Sartoris is a former Brunswick Town Councilor. Her husband, Steve Walker, is Brunswick Town Councilor for District 2

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