AUGUSTA — Gun rights advocates are pushing back against pending legislation to increase firearms regulation in Maine that includes universal background checks for all gun sales and”red flag” measures that would take firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves or others.

In at least one case, supporters of gun owner rights will have an ally in newly elected Gov. Janet Mills. The Democrat said Tuesday that she was not interested in trying to create a universal background check law for Maine, a proposal that voters rejected at the ballot box in 2016.

“The people have already spoken on background checks and they spoke pretty loud and clear,” Mills said. “Thirteen out of 16 counties voted against background checks. That’s a significant thing to me, the will of the people. We should make sure we listen to the will of the people.”

RECENT PARDON PROMPTS EFFORT

Other measures being proposed include mandatory waiting periods for firearms purchases, and giving local municipalities the right to ban guns from voting places and town meetings. Still other bills seek to ban large-capacity magazine sales or regulate gun storage in homes.

One proposal, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, would require an electronic background check to purchase a firearms hunting permit from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It already is against the law to falsify a hunting license application by not disclosing any previous felony convictions, but there is no system in place to verify that applicants are being truthful about their criminal history.

In October it was revealed that a former state lawmaker, Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, had tagged game including deer and turkeys using a firearms hunting permit even though he had a felony drug-trafficking conviction and was prohibited from possessing a firearm under state and federal law.

“Rep. Fecteau was concerned to learn that firearms hunting license applications are not checked against felony-level criminal records, and submitted the bill in response to this information,” Amy Sylvester, acting communications director for House Democrats, said in an email.

Pierce was pardoned by former Gov. Paul LePage during the last month of his administration, but the Maine Warden Service has said it is still investigating whether Pierce violated hunting laws.

Mills said she couldn’t comment yet on all of the firearms proposals moving through the Legislature.

“I haven’t got there yet, I really don’t know what the bills look like,” Mills said. “I’ll take them one step at a time.”

CRITICISM FOR PUBLIC SAFETY NOMINEE

In 2017, as the state’s attorney general, Mills helped to amend a bill that would allow police to temporarily confiscate an individual’s firearms with a judge’s order if they were deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others. The bill was opposed by gun rights groups and vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage.

Mills’ nomination of former Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck to be the state’s next commissioner of public safety has drawn criticism from gun advocates because Sauschuck opposed a change in state law in 2015 that allowed adults over 21 to carry a concealed handgun without first obtaining a permit.

Sauschuck, a former board member of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, has previously advocated for universal background check legislation as well as red flag bills and legislation that would ban assault-style military weapons.

Sauschuck has been criticized by former state Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican, who ushered through the permitless carry, or so-called “constitutional carry,” law in Maine. Brakey, who unsuccessfully tried to unseat independent Sen. Angus King in November, has taken to social media to criticize Sauschuck and Mills, as well as lawmakers who are proposing new gun regulations.

OPPOSITION VS. SUPPORT

Todd Tolhurst, president of Gun Owners of Maine, a statewide advocacy group for gun rights, said many of the bills have been seen before.

“Gun Owners of Maine opposes these measures, both for their serious adverse impact on the gun rights of good people, as well as their ineffectiveness in accomplishing any positive goal,” Tolhurst said.

Republican leaders in the Legislature also voiced criticism of the long list of gun control proposals.

“At first glance it is clear that these are solutions to problems we just don’t have here in Maine,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner. “We live in the safest state in the nation because of our traditions and heritage, which include responsible gun ownership.”

House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said crime rates have declined.

“Republicans are concerned the new majorities will try to legislate away our safety by imitating failed gun laws in crime-ridden cities,” she said.

But advocates for increased gun safety and regulation, including Geoff Bickford, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, said Maine does have problems with gun violence – especially suicide by gun. He said his group will continue to support what it sees as “common sense” changes meant to save lives.

He also said some of the flaws in the universal background check legislation that was rejected by voters in 2016 have been removed in the current proposals. Many believe the measure was defeated largely because it would have required a background check for any transfer of a firearm between individuals, including the loaning of weapons between family members for hunting.

“So the proposal differs quite a bit from what voters rejected before,” he said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog


Comments are not available on this story.