The ballot initiative requiring background checks on gun sales and transfers is complicated, unreasonable and unenforceable. You may have expected that opinion from me, the former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, but please let me tell you the rest of the story.
The only gun problem we have in Maine is the sale of our guns to the bad guys from out of state. We have ample evidence that bad guys come to Maine to buy guns in the private marketplace, sometimes lots of guns, and then use them in crimes. And private sellers are already required, by federal law, to go to a gun dealer to have a background check performed on nonresident buyers. But this law is very difficult to enforce.
When I worked at SAM, we created a kit for our members that explained the gun-sale laws and provided a form that included info on the buyer, encouraging them to use it when selling their guns.
Sales of guns to Maine residents haven’t been much of a problem, ever. And I must give the petitioners some credit for providing exceptions to the background check requirement if the sale is to a member of the family, although they left out some family members, like great-grandparents.
Where the initiative really derails is in the section requiring background checks for transfers of guns that are loaned. Let me give you a few examples of how this would have been a problem for me.
One year, I waited too long to sight my rifle, only to discover it was not working. I took it to Audette’s Hardware store in Winthrop for fixing, and got the call that it was ready to pick up the day before the deer season kicked off. But when I arrived, and they called the feds to do a background check on me, I didn’t pass the background check, so the store was unable to return my gun to me.
The feds don’t have to give any reason for delaying the transaction, but after three days, if they haven’t confirmed the denial, the transaction can be completed. I must tell you I am not, for any reason, unable to purchase firearms. But with a common name like George Smith, this sometimes happens.
With the hunting season starting the next day, I had to borrow a gun from a friend. If the ballot measure had been in place, we would have had to go to Audette’s to do a background check on me before the friend could loan me the gun — and because I had been denied the return of my own gun, I would have been unable to borrow the friend’s gun.
The ballot measure requires background checks for all transfers of guns, including loans, even for the purposes of hunting. Let me give you a couple more examples, just in case you think this requirement is reasonable.
Last year I took outdoor writer Deirdre Fleming of the Portland Press Herald on her first-ever deer hunt. Deirdre showed up the first morning with a very heavy old gun without a scope. I told her to put it back in her vehicle and gave her a much lighter rifle with a scope, which she kept until she shot a deer later that week.
If the ballot measure had been in place, we would have had to drive to Winthrop and pay for a background check on Deirdre. And before she could return the gun to me, we’d have had to repeat that process with a background check on me. Yes, she would have been unable to return my own gun to me until I passed the background check.
One more example. Three years ago, I showed up for opening day of the muzzle-loading deer season to hunt with my friends Ed and Cate Pineau, only to discover my gun was jammed, making it impossible to load. It was my fault, because I hadn’t properly cleaned the gun after the last season. Ed had an extra muzzleloader, so he loaned it to me for the season and our hunt continued. Two trips to Audette’s would have been required under the proposed law before I could take possession of Ed’s gun and before I could give it back to him after our hunt concluded.
The proposed law is also unenforceable. Law enforcement agents would have no way to know who owns the guns we loaned each other. But if they asked, and we hadn’t done the background checks, we would have been put in the position of lying, or getting a summons for violating the law.
I spent a good part of my career clarifying and repealing laws and rules that hunters and anglers commonly ignored because they were unreasonable, confusing, and/or unnecessary. I hate putting people in that position.
So for those reasons I will be voting no on the background check ballot measure. Please join me.