Monday, April 15, 2013

Gun Rights Debated in Augusta

Here in Maine, there are few, if any, issues that provoke as many strong opinions as those on gun control. If you needed any proof of that, all you had to do was go to the Capitol this week, where nearly two dozen gun bills were being introduced before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, where I serve as the ranking republican senator.

On the first day of these public hearings, the Committee heard 11 hours of non-stop testimony from Maine citizens. So far, hundreds of people have come to testify in favor of or against these bills, some of which would restrict the rights of owners, while others would expand them. 

One piece of proposed legislation, for example, LD 997, would limit the number of rounds in a magazine to 10. 

Another, LD 1183, would exempt Maine from any federal regulations on firearms and ammunition. 

LD 267 would require federal criminal background checks to be conducted for sales held at gun shows in Maine.

Other bills would repeal gun legislation that passed in the previous legislative session. LD 265, for example, would take away the right of a concealed weapon permit holder from storing a weapon in his or her vehicle at work if the employer prohibits this practice.

At this early point in the process, it is difficult to say how likely it is that any of these bills will end up being approved by the committee, the full legislature and then getting the Governor’s signature. I can tell you that each one will be carefully considered on its own merit following testimony from members of the public.

Much of the legislation that would restrict gun rights is a result of the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. 

While there may be differing opinions on gun rights within the Legislature, we all share in the profound grief over the unthinkable, evil act that took the lives of these young, innocent children whose lives had barely begun. The inclination to take some sort of action to prevent another such tragedy is understandable.
Having said that, I would caution that what happened in Newtown does not necessarily make every gun bill that is introduced to the Maine Legislature a sound one. It is important for those of us on the committee to have complete, accurate information when considering proposed legislation. Some of those testifying have cited supposed facts from the police report on the Sandy Hook tragedy. In fact, the final report has not been released and likely won’t be for months.

We should proceed carefully before adopting new laws that would restrict the rights of law-abiding gun owners based on the actions of a deranged individual who has no respect for the law.  As we have seen during this week’s committee hearings, Mainers take their constitutional right to bear arms very seriously, as well they should.

For these reasons, it’s very important that all sides be heard in this very important debate.

Senator Gary Plummer (R-Cumberland) serves on the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

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