Customers in Windsor, Winslow gun shops say law will make it harder for law-abiding residents

WINDSOR — There weren’t many supporters of Question 3 Monday at Hussey’s General Store, where a sign out front has long advertised three items from the diverse range of goods that can be found there — “Guns, Wedding Gowns, Cold Beer.”

Customers of the Windsor store who shared their opinion about the ballot measure to expand background checks on firearms said it won’t prevent people who shouldn’t have a gun from getting one, but it would make it harder for law-abiding residents to sell, buy, or even lend or borrow a gun.

“I think it’s a waste of time. I don’t see how you could ever enforce it,” said Scott Christensen, 47, of Rome, who wore a hat emblazoned with “NRA” for the National Rifle Association, while checking out the guns for sale at the Windsor store where a bit of just about everything is for sale on its shelves. “If they stop you (and you have a gun), how would they know whose it is?”

Question 3 on the Nov. 8 ballot would extend the requirement that background checks be performed before selling or transferring a firearm, as licensed dealers are required to do now, to individuals.

A poll of 505 likely voters conducted for the Portland Press Herald newspaper by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center indicated 61 percent of those surveyed plan to vote yes on Question 3, while 33 percent plan to vote no, and 6 percent were undecided.

In Winslow, others expressed concern with the ballot measure and one firearms seller offered a blunt assessment.

“They’re idiots,” said James G. Smith, manager of Jim’s Gun Shop on Bay Street, of Question 3 advocates.

Neil Whitcomb, assistant manager and gunsmith at the Winslow gun shop, agreed with Smith and said the measure for background checks on gun sales will end up hurting even licensed gun dealers. The proposed law says that in order for a gun sale or transfer to take place between people without licenses, they have to go to a licensed firearms dealer to run a background check on the person buying the gun.

“When these things happen and they have to pay the dealer, who’s to say how much the dealer can charge?” Whitcomb said while working at the gun shop Monday. He predicts that the state will set the cost, which will probably be minimal, so the dealer will require people to make appointments to avoid wasting all his time on background checks that yield small profits.

Whitcomb said people can just call the local police department with the buyer’s license number and ask for his or her background.

But Deputy Chief Bill Bonney from the Waterville Police Department said that was incorrect. The police department’s records are for law enforcement purposes only, so they couldn’t release information for a private gun sale.

“We’re held to some very strict standards by the state and the FBI,” Bonney said, one of which is to keep that information solely for law enforcement use.

Bonney, who has worked in the profession for 20 years, also said he’d never heard of the department getting a call requesting information for that reason.

Back in Windsor, Cindy Doiron, 65, of Detroit, who was looking at dresses at Hussey’s, said she supports expanding the requirement for background checks, and she might vote yes on the referendum question.

But she has concerns about it after hearing from an acquaintance that the proposed new law would apply to family members lending their guns to other family members. She said she has four guns, which she uses to shoot target practice, and she doesn’t hunt because she doesn’t want to kill a wild animal. She said she is particular about who’ll she let use her guns. But she doesn’t want to be prevented from lending them to a family member.

While the law would apply to loaning, not just selling, someone a gun, it includes multiple exceptions to the background check requirement, including if the transfer of a firearm is from one family member to another.

Doiron said while she supports increasing the background check requirement, she believes if someone — even someone not allowed to have one such as a criminal — wants a gun, they will find a way to get one, legally or otherwise.

“I definitely want stricter background checks,” she said. “But people are still going to find a way to get guns.”

The proposed statute has some exceptions. Firearms can be sold or transferred without background checks between family members, between people temporarily to prevent harm or death, between someone and a law enforcement officer of some kind, between people for temporary purposes not involving crime, at shooting ranges or organized competitions, while hunting or upon a person’s death. There are also provisions for buying or transferring firearms that are relics or antiques.

Both Whitcomb and Smith said they think the push for the legislation is coming from out of state, and that people like Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, are putting millions of dollars into lobbying for the issue.

Whitcomb said he thinks the politicians pushing the issue just want serial numbers of guns so they can confiscate them in the future.

“They don’t care about if you die,” he said. “All they care about is if you die by a handgun.”

Whitcomb believes more people are buying guns to protect themselves, especially women. He said police exist to enforce the law as they see fit, so people are turning to guns as an immediate way to protect themselves.

Jasen Pelletier, 48, of Windsor, sporting goods manager at Hussey’s, said Question 3 is increasingly becoming a hot topic of discussion over the gun counter at the store, where a stack of “Vote No on Question 3” fliers and bumper stickers sit above a display of handguns.

He believes there is more to the proposed law change than supporters let on, that it is a foot in the door that could ultimately result in a requirement for Mainers to register their firearms, something not required now nor proposed by Question 3.

“They’re trying to sneak some stuff past us. What they’re really trying to do is register guns,” he said. “This is how they get their foot in the door.”

He said the only way officials will be able to know for sure who owns a gun, and thus whether it was transferred or sold properly, would be to require guns to be registered and keep that information in a registry.

He said the proposed new law is foolish and unenforceable.

Pelletier said the store would probably get some new revenue from performing background checks for individuals selling or transferring guns to other individuals if the law passes, but he still plans to vote against Question 3.

He said he believes the law would have a negative impact on every gun owner and could make felons out of otherwise law-abiding people.

John Burke won’t be voting on Question 3 because he’s from England and was at Hussey’s Monday looking around while “on holiday” or vacation.

He said he does not believe people should carry guns around, but he also doesn’t think the proposed law change would help prevent that.

He said without gun registration, there is no way to know who a gun belongs to, so enforcing the new provisions would be difficult.

“I feel strongly people shouldn’t carry guns, but (this proposed) law isn’t going to make any difference by making it harder for people to get one,” he said. “You’ve got enough laws, but it’s not doing anything.”

Two other men at Hussey’s Monday declined to give their names, but said they believe the law would make criminals out of regular people without increasing public safety.

Madeline St. Amour contributed to this report.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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