Thank God that November’s active-shooter scare in 11 Maine schools was a hoax.

Election 2022 Texas School Shooting

A memorial to the 19 children and two teachers killed May 24 by a gunman using a semi-automatic firearm sits outside Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, in October. Acacia Coronado/Associated Press, File

Maine, however, is just one of a handful of states that has not had a mass-murder tragedy like the shootings at Uvalde, Sandy Hook, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Parkland or Columbine. A common theme in these shootings is that the shooters use semi-automatic firearms with large magazines, often bought with no permit in advance of the purchase. (A permit to purchase is more than a background check: It requires the buyer to apply for and obtain a permit first.) The Uvalde shooter bought two AR-15 platform rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition off the shelf just days before the killing.

Today in Maine any adult, no matter how unstable (absent a court finding of dangerous instability upon a doctor’s testimony), can buy and carry a semi-automatic firearm capable of firing dozens of rounds without reloading, with no background check, no permit, no waiting period. This is because, in Maine, no permit is required to buy or carry any gun – even AR-15-style guns with magazines of 15, 30, even 45 rounds.

What can we in Maine do to help protect our children from a shooter with a semi-automatic firearm capable of mowing them down in seconds?

We can support the passage of a law to require a permit to buy or carry any semi-automatic firearm which is already prohibited for hunting in Maine.

Maine law prohibits hunters from using “any autoloading firearm having a magazine capacity of more than 5 cartridges” (excepting small-caliber and short-barrel firearms). Such a semi-automatic firearms permitting law could use the same permit application standards that are in Maine’s existing voluntary gun permit statute. So this would be a “homegrown” law fitting with Maine’s culture and laws.


Such a law would meet the constitutional requirements of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

Justice Clarence Thomas’ decision in Bruen says the Second Amendment right to bear arms extends to “law-abiding, responsible citizens.” His decision thus distinguishes between New York state’s unconstitutional “may issue for proper cause” permit statute and the constitutional “shall issue” permit statutes of other states.

A Maine “shall issue” semi-automatic firearm permit law would meet Bruen’s standards – and would be less restrictive than the “shall issue” permit statutes of other states, as it would apply only to the semi-automatic firearms which are already not legal for hunting in Maine, and would not apply to any other guns. It also would not require permits for current owners of semi-automatic firearms to continue to possess them in their homes.

Can we all support the passage of such a law? We gun owners, hunters, Republicans, Democrats, parents and grandparents? If such a law were passed, we would for certain reduce the risk of a mass shooting by a semi-automatic firearm in Maine.

This year, and particularly since Uvalde, many people have written to the Press Herald pleading for Maine to do something to improve gun safety.

A semi-automatic firearms permitting law would not only avoid the legal obstacles presented by Bruen to other gun safety measures, but also would be limited to semi-automatic firearms which are already prohibited in Maine for hunting, so it should have a chance at passage as a reasonable, and constitutional, measure.

Please contact your legislator in support of such a law and please sign up with the Show Up Network of Maine’s Gun Safety Coalition, in support of the gun-safety bills already pending in the Maine Legislature. Let’s do what we can, for our kids and grandkids.

Correction (Dec. 20): Because of an editing error, punctuation altered the meaning of some sentences in this op-ed. The text has been corrected.

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