For decades we’ve been told that no law can keep a gun out of the wrong person’s hands, and that the right to bear arms is unassailable. It’s left us with a country awash in guns and crippled by gun violence, and very few means of quickly turning things around.

In Maine, we might not be able to do much about the 460 million or so firearms floating around this country. But we can do our part to keep them from being used to end lives.

Bills now under consideration in Augusta are not a cure-all by any means. But together they would make it less likely that a firearm finds its way into the hands of the wrong person at the wrong time, both here and in the states where Maine’s lax gun laws are capable of contributing to violence.


Top among them is legislation from House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross that would require background checks for most private firearms sales.

Others, also from Democratic lawmakers, would install a 72-hour waiting period for buying a firearm and make it a crime under state law to sell or transfer a firearm to a prohibited person.


There are a lot of factors that influence gun violence, so the effect of any one policy is often muted, or at least hard to separate from all the noise.

YARMOUTH, ME – APRIL 18: Police on the scene of a shooting in Yarmouth.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

But experience across different states shows us that policies like these have had at least some success in keeping guns away from the wrong people. They may not pose an insurmountable barrier to those who want a gun for the wrong reasons, but it’s clear that they do stop people in many circumstances — and that they do so without imposing any undue burden on law-abiding gun owners.

Opponents of these measures, including the influential Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, question whether any of them would reduce gun violence, though evidence suggests that they would. They also say that the bills would infringe on constitutional rights, and that they are not needed in a state as safe, and with as many responsible gun owners, as Maine.

Finally, with regards to background checks, opponents argue that Mainers have already rejected a similar proposal, on a referendum ballot in 2016.

As for the 2016 referendum, this year’s proposal represents an improvement, with more exclusions carved out.

And a lot has changed since 2016.


Tens of millions more guns are now in circulation. On top of the everyday gun violence that plagues both large cities and rural states, mass shootings have become a sickeningly regular part of American life.


Just last month, Maine experienced that violence firsthand. In what should have been an eye-opening event for everyone, four people were shot to death in Bowdoin, and another three were injured by gunfire on I-295 near Yarmouth.

The shooter, police say, was prohibited from having a gun. But he apparently had no problem finding one.

Just in the last week, there was a nonfatal shooting in downtown Portland and shots fired into the air during a dispute in Westbrook.

Maine may be one of the safest states in the nation, but it also has the highest rate of gun violence in New England — a statistic that includes firearm homicides and suicides. A 72-hour waiting period, a new step in obtaining a gun, has the potential to stop people from acting rashly, whatever their circumstances.


And Maine’s lax laws contribute to gun violence elsewhere. In 2020, a man killed 22 people and injured three in Nova Scotia using firearms acquired illegally from Maine. Last month, a Turner woman was recently charged with buying more than 50 firearms in a three-month span and selling them to a gang in California; just two of the guns have been recovered.

It’s clear that people with bad intent look at Maine as an easy place to acquire weapons and that instituting proper background checks could prevent tragedy.

For the chance to stop a shooting before it happens, is the minor inconvenience of a background check, or a short waiting period, really too much to take?

Private negotiations on these and other gun-related bills are underway in the Legislature. Gov. Mills, who met recently in her office with SAM, may be eyeing a compromise that the gun-rights group can support.

But any deal that doesn’t include these proven measures for keeping guns out of the wrong hands isn’t a compromise at all. It’s an invitation for more violence.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.