It’s an oft-heard rebuttal to those who call for more stringent gun laws in this country: Before we start passing new firearms statutes, why not enforce the ones already on the books?

“We don’t always agree with that – that we don’t need new guns laws. But we do agree with the part about enforcing the laws we have,” William Harwood, president of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, said in an interview Wednesday. “And this is an example where we have a public official who apparently didn’t feel the need to comply with the law.”

That public official is state Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, now in the homestretch of his bid for a third term representing House District 53.

Pierce, who did not respond to an interview request, has had a rough couple of weeks. It all started Oct. 19, when the Maine Democratic Party released a list of four Republican legislative candidates with what the Dems called “serious” criminal records.

Two of the four had already suspended their campaigns. A third is running for his first term against an incumbent.

Then there’s Pierce, the two-term lawmaker who has his eye on a House leadership position should he prevail on Election Day.

His rap sheet includes convictions for drug possession, twice operating under the influence and two cases of drug trafficking – one a misdemeanor, the other a felony. He’s also been arrested twice on assault charges – a 1982 charge was filed pending good behavior, and a second, in 2004, was pleaded down to a disorderly conduct conviction.

It gets worse.

A tip led Press Herald reporter Scott Thistle to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, where public records show Pierce used a 30.06 rifle to shoot a deer in Phippsburg in 2012 and a moose in Misery Gore Township in 2002. He also used a firearm to tag a deer in 2001, turkeys in 2005 and another deer in 2011.

One problem: It’s a crime, under both federal and state law, for a convicted felon to possess a firearm.

What say Rep. Pierce?

At first, he tripped over himself, suggesting to Thistle that he bagged his wildlife with a bow and arrow. Then he stumbled, nonsensically admitting to buying all those firearm permits not to actually use them, but rather to show his support for Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.

And now that the record of his hunting prowess has knocked his feet right out from under him? Including the fact that he holds two any-deer permits for the 2018 season, which are granted only to people who have a hunting permit and thus have attested that they are not a convicted felon?

The Dresden Deadeye has gone silent. Nothing shuts up a lawmaker faster than the revelation that he’s spent the past 17 years acting as if the law doesn’t apply to him.

Where this goes from here depends on the investigation now underway by the Maine Warden Service. Pierce’s proficiency with a 30.06 also might raise the eyebrows of federal investigators, who don’t look kindly on felons walking around with guns.

Regardless of what awaits Pierce, two questions here are worthy of discussion – if only there was room for that kind of thing in the never-ending debate over guns.

First, if the state issues hunting permits and, at the same time, maintains criminal records, how hard would it be to cross-check hunting applications with felony convictions?

“We could do a better job sharing information so we could get better enforcement of the law,” Harwood agreed. “I think we can all agree that enforcing the laws is a good thing.”

That said, he added, “I would suspect, based on years of working with these legislative issues, that we would have very strong opposition from the gun lobby. … It would be a very challenging legislative fight to take on.”

We’re talking, after all, about a simple background check. Which the National Rifle Association and its allies reflexively inflate to an outright repeal of the 2nd Amendment.

Second, is a lifetime ban on firearm possession truly necessary for any and all felons?

Or, in cases where an erstwhile hunter has kept his or her nose clean for, say, 20 years after a non-violent felony conviction, might it not be appropriate to allow that person back in the woods to shoot a deer?

“We would be happy to sit down and talk about a way to reform that so that there was a way for people who were felons to petition a government agency and say, ‘I think I’ve paid my dues to society. I’m not a violent human being. And I love hunting and I would request permission to have a permit or license to handle a firearm,’ ” Harwood said.

So, why not have that conversation?

“The problem with these issues is that there’s been so little indication from the gun lobby that they would like to sit down and tweak these laws where they need to be tweaked,” Harwood said.

In other words, despite all the noise, we haven’t even begun to talk.

It’s hard to say when, or if, the political pendulum will swing back to a point where common sense dictates who should have access to guns and who shouldn’t.

But until that happens, this much is clear.

Maine’s deer hunting season began last weekend, and the vast majority of those who don their blaze orange and head out into the woods between now and Nov. 24 are legally pursuing a tradition that goes back centuries.

Yet hiding among them are an unknown number of nimrods who didn’t just ignore the law when they stated on their hunting license application that they are not convicted felons. They flat-out broke it.

Catching them – also known as enforcing the laws we have – shouldn’t be this hard.

Nor should electing them to the Maine Legislature be this easy.


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