Former State Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, believes that it’s “time for Maine to hold a referendum on guns.”

He believes that going directly to the people will force the hand of Maine’s legislators because he worked on “countless bills to protect the public through common-sense gun regulations” only to see them buried in the Legislature.

Strimling foresees the NRA and Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine pouring “tons of resources into defeating even the most reasonable laws,” but points to numerous polls showing public support for regulations he favors.

As he sees it, the success of the gay marriage enactment after repeated failures shows how persistence may lead to success, and suggests that even a 45 percent vote for “gun safety” would show legislators that their constituents want the legislation passed.

Strimling does not propose a referendum to amend Section 16 of Article I in Maine’s Constitution: “To keep and bear arms. Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.” He makes no mention of the state Constitution.

Presumably, he assumes that a referendum victory will persuade our legislators to find a way around it. He may be right in that assumption, but there’s another apparent assumption, shared by gun control advocates everywhere, which is certainly false: That legislatures need only to pass a law for universal obedience to follow. Majority rules.


But does it always? President Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address pointed out the difficulty: “The fugitive slave clause of the Constitution, and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave trade, are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself.”

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica’s article about Maine recognized the same problem of imperfect popular support for Maine’s 1884 law that “forever prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic fluids except for medicinal and mechanical purposes.”

It pointed out that “… the law labors under the disadvantage of all laws not vigorously sustained by general public sentiment and is grossly violated. For the most part, it is executed to the degree demanded by local sentiment …”

This means that, in Farmington, local sentiment dictated that topers could find no bars, while local sentiment in Portland dictated that a parched sailor would find it impossible to find a drink — unless he walked a couple of blocks and spoke loudly enough to be heard by a bartender above the din of merriment and guzzling in some illegal but popular establishment.

On Jan. 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment enacting prohibition was ratified with support of two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the state legislatures.

To quote Lincoln again “The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation …” of such laws. When there’s a big, big gap in public consensus, however, a law supported by the majority will be effectively nullified by the determined resistance of the minority.


Weeks before the prohibition laws went into effect, the The Daily Mail of Fredericton, New Brunswick, reported that “Enough smuggled Canadian stock is said to be hidden in the woods [over the Maine border] to keep authorities busy for over a year.”

David Okrent’s “Last Call,” a fascinating book, catalogues the amazing variety of evasions devised by dedicated topers to circumvent the will of the majority. “Before Dutch Schultz, Bug Moran, Johnny Torio and Al Capone (‘I make my money by supplying a public demand.’) made headlines … whole Chicago neighborhoods reeked from mom and pop apartment distilleries.”

Back to the issue of gun control. As New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo observed, “It’s a very divisive topic. There’s a lot of energy on both sides. Some people are vehemently against; some people think we’re out of our minds for not passing it.”

The biggest problem with imposing obedience is that many gun owners believe private ownership is a right. The passage of legislation will not diminish their vehemence and energy.

Strimling’s referendum idea completely ignores the problems of enforcement.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg demanded “immediate action” after the Newtown, Conn., butchery. Hundreds of thousands of Americans took immediate action — they bought hundreds of thousands of firearms, including “assault rifles.”

Does anyone believe they are going to turn around and surrender them in obedience to new legislation?

Proposals for gun control laws that disregard enforcement problems are illusory.

John Frary of Farmington, Maine is a former U.S. Congress candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United. See www.fraryhomecompanion. com Email: [email protected]

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