Monday, June 22, 2009

Recap of the First Session in Augusta

As the Legislative session draws to a close in Augusta, let’s take moment to look back at some of the actions our legislators took to protect the public health and safety of the people of Maine.

Legislators voted to keep the ban on the sale of fireworks. Concerns were raised about the dangers of fireworks and the lack of oversight in the proposed legislation.

Because of concern of house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, legislators passed a law requiring all homes sold in Maine have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Legislators tightened up regulations dealing with retail tobacco and liquor licensing laws. It should be noted that during debate on this bill, no objections were raised over the requirement that anyone who sells tobacco and liquor must obtain a license to do so.

Because of ongoing concerns about the dangers of smoking and second hand smoke, legislators passed a law that prohibits smoking on state beaches. These are all laudable measures and will, no doubt, save lives.

Given all the concern shown for Maine’s public health and safety, one has to wonder what happened when legislators were given a chance to legislate gun sales in Maine.

Two bills were considered this session in Augusta that would require all gun sales, including private gun sales at guns shows and through publications such as Uncle Henry’s, be subject to an FBI instant criminal background check. Because a private individual cannot access the FBI background check system, sales would be processed by a licensed gun dealer who would run the check. Other states have processed private gun sales this exact way for years. Both of these bills failed to even make it out of committee.

Why is it that legislators who show such concern in general for our public health and safety routinely turn a blind eye when it comes to easy, unquestioned access to firearms?

Maine allows for the private sale of guns where there will be no criminal background check run, no records kept, no questions asked. There is no doubt that convicted felons and others who should not possess guns have taken advantage of Maine’s weak laws and obtained guns. Yet despite this evidence, legislators continue to kowtow to the gun lobby.

But look at what the gun lobby is telling their members. The National Rifle Association sent out an alert that stated, “These bills would effectively dismantle gun shows as well as ban the private sale of firearms in Maine.” The reality is these bills would do neither and for proof one need look no further than California which has had similar laws in place for twenty years. You will still find gun shows and private gun sales in California, sales that are facilitated by licensed dealers who run a criminal background check.

Yet person after person who spoke in opposition to these bills talked about how this was just a trick to ban guns, to close down gun shows, to prevent people from selling their guns, and would lead to the government at their door looking to confiscate their firearms.

And they talked about the Second Amendment. Without, it seems, having taken the time to fully read last year’s Supreme Court decision. In the Heller decision the Supreme Court ruled that while there is an individual right to own a gun “like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The court make it absolutely clear that the right to own a gun exists side by side with the right to regulate the purchase, possession and carrying of guns.

It is the job of our legislators to look past the rhetoric, the misinterpretations, and even the lies of those who try to influence their opinions. It is their job to look at the facts, to read the full Heller decision, to examine the court documentation of private gun sales that lead to gun crimes, and to look beyond the line of people who are simply parroting back the lies that have been feed to them.

No one said the job of a legislator was an easy one, but the public health and safety of the people of Maine are depending on them.