FARMINGTON — Maine leaders in the debate on gun control gathered to discuss whether there can be meaningful gun control laws that still protect constitutional rights during a panel discussion Monday UMevening at the University of Maine at Farmington.
Panelists debated which studies on gun control were worth considering, whether video games lead to gun violence and whether universal background checks would lead to an invasion of privacy.
While the gun control debate has become heated throughout much of the country, the panelists calmly debated their points of view and at the beginning of the event told the 100-person crowd of students and community members that they wanted the event to be a chance to have meaningful, intelligent public discussion.
The six panelists included Ethan Strimling, a former state senator who sponsored bills to enhance gun safety; David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine; Barry Sturk, a federally licensed firearms dealer and state lobbyist for firearms; J. Thomas Franklin, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence; Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, an avid hunter; and Dr. Art Dingely, a psychiatrist, hunter and former National Rifle Association member.
Franklin said while people can use statistics to prove almost any argument, there was an example of proof he thought was conclusive.
“There are four long-term studies showing restricted access to guns reduces gun violence. Those studies are called Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand,” he said. “Australians are even proud of being descendants of convicts, for God’s sake, but you don’t see them having high gun violence rates.”
Harvell said he thinks violent video games, the breakdown of the family unit and drug use are all factors in escalating gun violence.
“I think with these factors you’re asking for some real probelms, and I think you’re seeing it,” he said.
Harvell said he is concerned that people who don’t understand guns are pushing gun control laws that will affect areas such as Maine, where much of the population is hunters and smart about safe gun use.
Strimling said while video games or family problems may be factors contributing to gun violence, people debating guns should acknowledge that guns are the weapon of choice in recent mass killings.
He said he thinks there should be more controls, especially in creating background checks. He said he has yet to hear anyone explain a negative side to increased background checks.
Trahan said while his group has taken no formal stand on universal background checks, he thinks people should consider whether they would lead to an invasion of privacy by the government.
“Do we as a society want every firearm holder known by the federal government? There is a risk to that if there is ever an attempt to collect those firearms,” he said.
He said the debate should not just be about background checks being universal but about what happens to the information gathered.
Starks said he doesn’t think background checks will effectively screen out people who want to commit gun violence. He said people who want to commit a mass shooting will find a way to get a gun and circumvent government restrictions.
“If you got the mind-set that you’re going to go out and do this, it’s going to happen,” he said.
Trahan said he also is concerned about how quickly gun laws are being created in the wake of the Newtown Elementary School shootings, when the investigation on the shooting is not complete.
Strimling said the debate was not something America jumped into, but rather is a debate that has been going on for decades, revived after each school shooting.
“The reason why we were so quick to jump in is because we don’t need more data. We don’t ned more studies. We don’t need more examples. It’s been happening for 20 or 30 years,” he said.