Columns and letters to the editor continue to call for repeal of the Second Amendment. The two most-cited arguments are that the right to keep and bear arms applies only to militias, and that sportsmen and target shooters don’t need “assault weapons” or “high-capacity magazines.”
On face value, these arguments seem reasonable, but when you understand the history of gun rights in Maine and intent of the Maine Legislature when it passed Article 1, Section 16, of the Maine Constitution, this argument has no merit.
Prior to 1987, Article 1, Section 16, of the Maine Constitution read, “Every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms for the common defense; and that right shall never be questioned.”
In 1986, the state supreme court, in the case of State vs. Friel, determined that the rights of Maine citizens to own guns once thought to apply to individuals extended only to groups such as the National Guard.
Shocked by that ruling, then-Speaker of the House John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, introduced legislation that clarified the right to own firearms was an individual right.
The Maine Legislature passed the amendment and Maine people ratified the change in 1987.
At the time, Rep. Cushman Anthony, D-South Portland, placed in the record this statement: “This bill, if accepted by the population as a whole, would clarify that the constitutional right to bear arms is not exclusively a collective right for the purpose of defending the state against an outside enemy or the people against a tyrannical dictator but that the constitutional right to bear arms is also a personal right.”
Several pro-gun control advocates have indicated a desire to pass legislation authorizing municipalities by law to regulate guns. Anthony also considered that issue: “The sole purpose of this bill, I have come to understand, is to establish a constitutional underpinning to protect against any absolute prohibition by this or any future legislature or any municipality for that matter, on owning or bearing guns.”
On several occasions, letter writers have said there is no need for assault weapons or high-capacity magazines to hunt.
It is important to separate hunting with firearms and firearms rights for self-defense.
Hunting is a privilege for which participants pay a fee to hunt animals. In accepting the conditions of a license, sportsmen also agree to very stiff gun regulations, including bans on high-capacity magazines and certain firearms.
Such accessories are not necessary for hunting, but their ownership and use is a constitutionally protected right for self-defense.
When gun-control advocates say they support gun ownership for hunting and target shooting, what they really are saying is they want to change gun ownership from a right to a privilege, which is then much easier to regulate or ban.
The only way to do that is to repeal the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and then repeal Article 1, Section 16, of the Maine Constitution.
The likelihood of repeal is slim at best, so gun-control advocates have begun to demonize the National Rifle Association and organizations such as Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
One recent letter writer in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel wanted the NRA designated a terrorist organization; another claimed it is the new Ku Klux Klan.
All of these claims unfairly focus the red hot anger and sorrow of a nation onto law-abiding gun owners. At a recent Fish and Game club meeting in Blue Hill, one audience member asked, “Had the gunman in Connecticut used an automobile to run down 26 pedestrians in a crowded market would we be considering bans on automobiles?”
This unfair blame is poised to divide our nation along urban and rural lines. When urban residents call for help against an armed intruder, a police officer is at their home within moments. In rural America, however, it can take an hour or more for help to arrive.
Often a homeowner’s firearm is the only barrier between an armed intruder and a rural family. They will not give up their rights and security without a fight.
There are three truths in the current gun control debate:
* If we pass legislation restricting guns, law-abiding people will lose some ability to defend themselves.
* None of the proposals so far would have stopped the shooter in Connecticut.
* This gun debate has nothing to do with hunting.
Perhaps that is why our Founding Fathers made it so difficult to change our Constitution.
David Trahan is executive director of Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, 205 Church Hill Road, Suite 1, Augusta.