Boy, have things changed. When I was in elementary school, many of us brought knives to school and played games with them at recess. Today a kid can’t even bring a plastic knife to school.

In high school I would sometimes bring my shotgun and leave it in the back of the room so I could hunt after school in a nearby orchard. I talked recently with a friend who said both he and his teacher brought their shotguns to school, and they hunted together after school. Today it’s a felony to bring a gun to school.

If they decide to allow teachers to bring guns to school, I’m not sure if a shotgun for bird hunting after school would qualify.

A recent news story in this paper by Kevin Miller reported on the positions of various candidates for governor on new gun laws. Essentially Republicans were against them and Democrats were for them. That’s not going to get the job done.

I thought Attorney Genneral Janet Mills offered the best approach, saying it is a complicated issue, including mental illness and domestic abuse, and she hoped to bring all sides together to come up with ways we can address these problems. That is the only approach that will work.

All sides need to step back, stop the angry rhetoric, and get together to find ways we can make our kids and all of us safer and more secure.

During my time at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I was proud of SAM’s support for successful legislation that took guns away from those served with temporary protection orders. At that time, only permanent orders gave the judge the option of taking away a person’s guns. We worked with then-Attorney General Steve Rowe to get that done.

Years later, I conferred with Mills over a problem — it is very difficult for the police to get authority to enter that person’s house and make sure the guns are gone. That person can actually just give the guns to a relative, so they are still accessible to him.

And it is also difficult for the police to take those guns because they have no place to store them. Years ago I worked with my friend Ed Pineau, who was lobbying for SAM, on a bond issue that would have given police funding to build gun storage areas. But we were unsuccessful in winning legislative approval for that bond issue. This is still a problem.

Mental illness is also a complicated and difficult issue, particularly in evaluating the illness and determining who should have guns, and whether that ban should be temporary or permanent.

I guess it’s easy to debate bump stocks, but even the definition of an automatic firearm is complicated. Lots of people don’t understand that they are talking about the same mechanisms that are available on my hunting rifles.

And apparently we’re going to argue about the age at which you should be allowed to purchase a firearm. I guess some people would be alarmed to know that I had my own gun at age 12.

I can agree that most private gun sales should require a background check. But the Maine ballot measure calling for that went way too far, and was defeated, albeit by a fairly narrow margin.

That fall, when it was on the ballot, I loaned a firearm to a friend, and she kept it through the deer season until she actually shot a deer. That proposed law would have required a background check when I loaned her the gun and another background check when she gave my gun back to me. That’s ridiculous. So the private sale requirement should be more reasonable, with exceptions for family members and friends, particularly if the gun is only being loaned during hunting season.

One year, on the first day of the muzzleloading season on deer, I emerged from Ed Pineau’s vehicle to discover that my muzzleloader wasn’t working. Ed quickly loaned me one of his muzzleloaders for the season. That should never require a background check.

During my last years at SAM, we provided members with a kit that included forms to fill out when they were selling a gun to someone they don’t know. We thought that was important to protect the gun seller.

I’m not aware that someone who sells a gun privately has ever been held liable if that gun is later used in a crime, but if that was possible, it certainly would give most private gun sellers a strong incentive to get a background check done. Many gun sellers in Maine now perform background checks for private sales and quite a few private sellers take advantage of that, even though they have to pay for the service.

I fear that we are going to get nothing done, or that we’re going to enact minor law changes that will not address this serious problem in a comprehensive way. That will be a shame.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at

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