Lawmakers clashed Wednesday over a series of gun-related bills, with Democrats accusing Republicans of being unable to have an adult conversation about preventing gun violence.

The debate came as the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee began working on 12 gun bills, which range from expanding gun-owner rights to adding more restrictions to accessing firearms, including adopting a 72-hour waiting period.

After Republicans called the latter proposal “unreasonable,” Rep. Suzanne Salisbury, D-Westbrook, said she was frustrated by the opposition, saying reasonable people are asking lawmakers to do something about the amount of gun violence they see on the news.

“If these bills aren’t the answer to address the issue of gun violence, then what is the answer?” asked Salisbury, who co-chairs the committee. “I haven’t fully heard from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and I don’t know what the answer is.”

Republicans shot back, saying they have offered ideas, but Democrats simply don’t like their proposals, such as putting police officers in schools and arming teachers.

“Those bills have come before the Legislature this session and have been immediately dismissed,” said Rep. Robert Nutting, R-Oakland. “If we are going to be adults and talk about various solutions to the problems we have with shootings, those would be two things we should look at, but they’re dismissed out-of-hand, and we’re right back to restricting the Second Amendment rights of citizens.”


Sen. Matt Harrington, R-Sanford, called out Democrats for opposing a Republican-backed bill that would have changed the Good Samaritan law, enacted last session to provide immunity from prosecution to some people at the scene of an illicit drug overdose if they call emergency medical services, to allow police to charge people with illegally possessing firearms.

Harrington said there is “an extreme high likelihood” that guns found at the scene of a drug overdose will be used in a future violent crime.

“Yet the fingers are pointed at us that we don’t want to do anything,” he said. “We all agree that those people shouldn’t have guns. How is that somehow a party-line vote? It is beyond me. And yet we want to pass this (waiting period bill), which is predominantly going to affect law-abiding citizens. But we don’t do anything to take the guns out of the hands of known violent felons (and that) is appalling to me.”

Legislation that aims to delay or restrict access to firearms face a stiff climb in Maine, a state with a strong outdoor and hunting heritage. But a rise in mass shootings – including one last month in Bowdoin – and Maine’s high rate of gun suicides have energized gun safety groups.

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is working with the governor’s office and legislative leaders on a possible compromise bill that would address straw purchases, a term for when someone purchases a gun for someone who is prohibited from having one, and increase safe storage practices to prevent accidental shootings and gun thefts.

SAM Executive Director David Trahan, who helped negotiate the state’s “yellow flag law,” which allows a court to seize someone’s firearms if they’re deemed a threat to themselves or others and has been used as a model for national legislation, did not respond to an interview request Wednesday.



A spokesperson for Gov. Janet Mills said the governor has met several times with SAM representatives about issues, such as straw purchases, but said there were no updates about when possible legislation would be drafted.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee rejected several Republican bills to expand gun rights to shield from prosecution people who live within 500 feet of a school who use a firearm to defend themselves in their homes. The committee spiked bills to prevent governments and delivery companies from keeping certain records about gun ownership.

However, the committee split votes on several other gun safety measures with 5-5 votes and the missing members have 48 hours to cast a vote, so the bills’ fates are uncertain.

Those bills were: L.D. 60, which would institute a 72-hour waiting period; L.D. 1103, which would prevent district attorneys from prosecuting cannabis users for possessing weapons, even though it would remain illegal under federal law for them to possess firearms; L.D. 1340, which would ban devices like bump stocks and auto sears, which can make semiautomatic weapons fire like automatic weapons; and L.D. 168, which would require background checks for private sales.

The committee tabled L.D. 1561, a bill sponsored by Rep. Chad Perkins, R-Dover Foxcroft, that would allow people convicted of nonviolent felonies to regain their firearm rights 10 years after serving their sentence. That proposal seemed to have the support of Tavis Hasenfus, D-Readfield.

Throughout the daylong session, the partisan divide was evident, with Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, lamenting the inability to find common ground on safety measures, especially on the 72-hour waiting period proposal, which resulted in a 5-5 tie.

“I’m really sad that it seems like in this country we can’t have a reasonable conversation about this.” Madigan said. “Why can’t we be grown-ups about it? … Part of becoming a grown-up is delaying gratification. I hate to break it to you, but grown-ups have to accept limits and work within rules and laws and sometimes we don’t get exactly what we want.”

Lawmakers who were not present have 48 hours to cast their votes before the bills are sent to the Legislature, which will have the final say.

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