Different words have different meanings in different contexts. We’re all well aware of this, but it often nonetheless causes confusion – especially when words are purposefully misappropriated by those looking to distort their meaning. This happens all the time in certain fields, where words have a specialized meaning that is vastly different from how they’re used by ordinary people in everyday conversation.

For instance, one word commonly used differently in politics is “compromise.” For most of us, a compromise means that two sides get a bit of what they wanted: If a friend wants to get pizza for dinner, but you don’t, you go to a restaurant that offers more than just pizza. In politics, the word “compromise” is often used quite differently: One side gets most of what they wanted, just not quite all of it – so, perhaps, your friend offers to pay for the pizza you never wanted in the first place.

All of this helps explain why, when grassroots activists passionately devoted to defending their position on a certain issue hear the word “compromise,” they immediately have a knee-jerk reaction of terror. All too often lately, conservatives have seen the people they worked hard to elect tout some supposed compromise that, in reality, just hands the Democrats a win. Recently, when word began to spread that gun-rights groups were negotiating behind the scenes with the Mills administration on legislation that would allow the confiscation of guns from people deemed a threat, panic set in among the conservative grassroots.

Lately in Maine, conservatives have succeeded in combating any and all forms of gun control while simultaneously expanding gun rights. They defeated an effort by Michael Bloomberg and his minions to impose universal background checks, and they managed to push a bill allowing concealed carry without a permit through a Democratic Legislature – one of the most significant expansions of gun rights in the state in decades.

This session, with Democrats in firm control in Augusta, conservatives have been more in damage-control mode. Still, they’ve been fairly successful in fighting gun control – most Maine Democrats who have to run in competitive districts aren’t eager to embrace the national liberal agenda on this issue, and Gov. Mills is no exception. Indeed, this may well be the only area where Democrats in Augusta are willing to buck the party line this session.

So, conservatives see little reason to compromise on gun rights, and they’re absolutely right. It’s been a winning issue politically here in Maine for them – both for candidates who support the Second Amendment and in referendum elections. It would be no surprise to see a compromise in Augusta fail because of grassroots opposition from conservatives; that’s been the pattern in recent years, and there’s no reason for that to change any time soon.


All of this is amplified during closed-door negotiations – like the ones that recently took place on a compromise version of the “red flag” confiscation bill. Although it’s become more commonplace in Augusta in recent years, there’s rarely (if ever) a legitimate reason for lawmakers to discuss legislation out of public view. We deserve to know what’s happening in our government, and simply seeing the finished product then watching the final votes and debate on the floor isn’t enough. We ought to be able to be involved in every step of the process, regardless of the topic, when legislators are working. If legislators aren’t willing to publicly state their opinions, then perhaps they ought to reconsider their views entirely.

Backroom discussions erode faith in our government, and that’s all the more true when it involves an issue as important to our liberty as the Second Amendment. Even if we have confidence in the individuals involved in a particular negotiation, the fundamentally flawed nature of the process leaves any outcome suspect. We’ll never know what side deals may have been struck or why, nor we will we know what may have been proposed or rejected by either side. All of that may seem incidental, but in fact it’s a vital way to understand the final product.

Certainly, it’s abundantly clear why the Mills administration has been willing to work with conservatives on the “red flag” bill: A win here would give her a major political victory. She’d be able to score points with moderates and liberals alike by saying that she was finally able to get something done on this issue. What’s less clear is why conservatives should cede any ground on gun rights and help her win re-election, rather than simply continuing to fight any new regulations, as they have in the past.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:


Twitter: jimfossel

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