Machine guns have been illegal under Maine and federal law for nearly a century because they are so lethal. But outdated laws mean that devices to increase a firearm’s lethality are cheap, easy to acquire and skirt laws banning machine guns.

This includes the bump stocks used to kill 60 and injure 500 in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting; “glock switches” used in the Alabama sweet-sixteen party shooting that left four dead and 32 injured last April; and “gat cranks” used to fire nearly 700 rounds per minute. Comparison of audio from two mass shootings, the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas concert and the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando on June 12, 2016, shows that a bump stock more than triples the rate at which a semi-automatic weapon fires. A “gat crank” marketing video shows how those devices more than quadruple the rate of fire. L.D. 2086, as amended, would have made machine gun conversion devices illegal under Maine law, in line with current federal law.

We lost that opportunity when Gov. Janet Mills vetoed the bill. The veto gives more weight to a theoretical concern that “minor modifications” could be mistaken for rapid-fire devices, than to the very real public safety concerns posed by machine gun conversion devices.

Machine guns have been regulated under federal law since the days of Al Capone and Pretty Boy Floyd. Congress enacted the National Firearms Act of 1934 in response to the use of these weapons in bank robberies and gang warfare because the “gangster as a law violator must be deprived of his most dangerous weapon, the machine gun,” S. Rep. No. 1444, 73d Cong., 2d Sess. 1-2 (1934).

In 1986, Congress passed a law to make transfer or possession of a machine gun illegal under most circumstances. This law essentially capped the number of machine guns on the civilian market. The rationale was similar: to provide “more effective protection of law enforcement officers from the proliferation of machine guns.” H.R. Rep. No. 495, 99th Cong., 2d Sess. 7 (1986).

Maine’s own machine gun ban was enacted in 1975 and has never been updated.


In the decades since machine guns became illegal, many types of devices that functionally convert semi-automatic firearms into machine guns have come on the market. The variety and sheer number of rapid-fire devices creates the same extraordinary threat to public safety and law enforcement as machine guns. The “bump stock” is familiar to many because of the Las Vegas mass shooting, but other rapid-fire devices like “switches” are easily made with a 3D printer.

Federal and state lawmakers have struggled to keep up with the flood of these devices.

In 2023 congressional testimony, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director Steven Dettelbach described the agency’s enforcement efforts: “Machine gun conversion devices – such as ‘switches,’ ‘drop in auto sears,’ or ‘forced reset triggers’ – similarly represent a significant emerging threat to public safety. Federal law prohibits the unregistered possession of machine guns, including the possession or transfer of machine gun conversion devices … ATF and our law enforcement partners have seen a dramatic increase in the use of machine gun conversion devices in violent crimes over the last five years.”

Equally concerning, the regulation that includes bump stocks in the federal machine gun ban, adopted at the direction of then-President Trump in response to the Las Vegas shooting, is now in jeopardy. This common sense regulation is being challenged as regulatory overreach in a U.S. Supreme Court case, Garland v. Cargill. If the regulation falls, bump stocks will be legally for sale in Maine.

We could have prevented this outcome by joining 15 states and the District of Columbia in enacting our own statute banning bump stocks and other rapid-fire devices. Unlike Maine’s outdated machine gun law, L.D. 2086 used the sound, effective framework established by the federal GOSAFE legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Angus King, a framework that encompasses any device designed to make a firearm to shoot like a machine gun. This approach would have helped our state keep up with new designs that allow rapid-fire devices to evade existing law.

L.D. 2086 was crafted to prohibit devices that harm a large number of people in a short period of time. The veto of L.D. 2086 was a major blow to the Legislature’s efforts to keep Mainers and our law enforcement officers safe. It will take hard work and open minds, but I believe we can come together to protect Mainers from firearms that are the equivalent of machine guns.

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