May 3, 2013

Maine committee endorses gun-show background checks

The committee also shoots down a Republican bill that would allow concealed weapons without permits.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — By close votes Thursday, a legislative committee supported expanding mandatory background checks on gun-show purchases and rejected a proposal to allow Mainers to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

click image to enlarge

In this January 19, 2013 file photo, Sid Strom from Norway, ME waits for the opening for the Augusta Gun Show at the Augusta Civic Center. A Maine legislative committee supported expanding mandatory background checks on gun-show purchases.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

Both votes in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee were 7-6, with Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Timothy Marks of Pittston, on the losing sides.

The background-check bill, sponsored by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, the committee's Senate chair, would make background checks mandatory at all gun shows in Maine.

Licensed dealers are already required to run background checks on buyers at gun shows. But private citizens selling at shows are not required to request background checks.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, said the vast majority of sales made at gun shows involve background checks, but some do not.

Gerzofsky said Thursday he would like to "shut the door" by imposing the background check requirement on all gun-show transactions.

Trahan said there are usually five to 10 gun shows per year in Maine. The website of JT Reid's Gun Shop, a popular shop in Auburn, lists six Maine gun shows in 2013.

Trahan said SAM opposes Gerzofsky's bill because some gun show organizers are doing background checks anyway, and requiring the checks would add to the state bureaucracy.

The so-called "gun-show loophole" has been debated nationally since the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The shooters in Colorado were found to have bought some of their weapons at gun shows.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigated firearms trafficking from 1996 to 1998 and found that gun shows were responsible for 26,000 illegally diverted guns. However, the Northeast region was responsible for only 8 percent of those guns.

A 2008 study by University of Michigan researchers found "gun shows do not have substantial impacts on either gun homicides or suicides."

However, one gun used in two apparently unrelated Portland murders has been traced to a private sale at a gun show, where the trail for its original seller went cold.

The concealed-carry bill sponsored by Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, would have eliminated the need for a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but will now go to the floor of the Legislature with an ought-not-to-pass recommendation, hurting its chances for passage.

If it does pass, Maine would become the sixth state to permit concealed carry without a permit.

Also on Thursday, the committee tabled action on a more sweeping gun-control bill from Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, the committee's House chair.

Dion's bill would mandate background checks on every private gun sale in Maine except those between family members. It would also require prospective gun buyers to complete a firearms safety course or possess either a hunting license or a concealed-weapon permit.

In addition, the bill would raise the minimum age for possessing a concealed-weapon permit from 18 to 21, and it would bar anyone who has been admitted involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital on an emergency basis from having firearms.

The committee also tabled action on a bill from Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, that would create a centralized concealed-handgun permit database for law enforcement use.

An estimated 30,000 concealed-weapon permits have been issued in Maine, but the exact number isn't known. That's because some towns and cities issue their own permits, others are issued by Maine State Police and there is no centralized data collection.

Without a central database, police may not discover whether a person accused of a crime has a concealed-weapon permit that should be revoked.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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