February 6, 2013

GEORGE SMITH: Encourage legislators to attend SAM workshop about guns

George Smith

Here's your chance to make an important contribution to the free-ranging debate about guns. Contact your state representative and senator today and urge them to attend the Legislative Gun Education Workshop scheduled for 1-5 p.m. Thursday at the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine's Augusta headquarters.

The Sheriff's Association and other police agencies sponsored a gun workshop for legislators a couple of weeks ago, but it was lightly attended. There's a lot more educating to do if Maine legislators are to debate these issues in a knowledgeable and thoughtful way.

SAM's announcement notes that "the workshop will give legislators an opportunity to learn everything there is to know about firearms and state and federal gun laws. In addition, legislators will have an opportunity to handle and fire pistols and rifles at the Capitol City Rifle and Pistol Club in Augusta."

I really like that idea, but I was glad to read that legislators will be limited to firing .22 caliber rifles and handguns under the supervision of the chief range safety officers. A group of legislators blasting away with automatic weapons would be scary.

They will see them fired, however. "We plan to demonstrate an automatic and a semi-automatic firearm," reports SAM's executive director Dave Trahan.

I am particularly impressed with the list of sponsors for the workshop: Sens. Seth Goodall, Troy Jackson and Michael Thibodeau and Reps. Jeff McCabe and Ken Fredette. All are in legislative leadership positions, indicating that they, too, understand the need to educate their troops about these complicated issues.

The workshop also has attracted an outstanding group of presenters, including some of the state's top firearms instructors and Maine's Attorney General Janet Mills. I don't know whether Mills will be firing the automatic weapon, but I'll bet she knows how.

No matter what your position is on gun issues, you have to recognize that ignorance is not the answer. The more that legislators know about guns, the better their decisions on gun legislation will be.

This is amply demonstrated by the misguided focus on concealed-weapon permits. Maine already requires a person to have a permit to carry a loaded firearm in a concealed manner. A dozen concealed weapons bills have been filed this session, however, promising to divert attention from the real issues.

For years I tried to convince legislators to repeal this requirement. The concealed weapons permit system is illogical, expensive and a waste of time and resources.

Only law-abiding citizens apply for these permits. A guy going in to rob a pharmacy is not going to pause and think, "Well, I'll have to carry my gun in the open because I don't have a concealed permit."

Police agencies always opposed my bill, insisting that their officers need to know who is carrying concealed weapons; but they also are trained to assume that every person they approach has a concealed weapon.

And they don't know who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon anyway, because that information is not in a central databank and readily available to police officers. Nor does it need to be.

Reading the lengthy list of gun bills introduced this legislative session is frustrating. Many miss the target, and will waste legislators' valuable time. The most legitimate issue to debate -- and the one that might address a real problem -- would be an extension of the background check requirement to some private sales.

Thanks to Project Safe Neighborhoods, an excellent federal program administered by Maine's U.S. Attorney, more than 40 Maine gun dealers, including L.L. Bean and Kittery Trading Post, now perform background checks for private sellers.

I recently taped a public service TV ad encouraging private sellers to take their gun buyers, if they don't know them, to a local dealer and have the background check performed, to protect themselves and assure that their gun is not used in a crime. Many gun dealers, owners and advocates I have talked with lately support an extension of the background check requirement to private sales, especially if the law allows an exception for sales to family members.

It is my fear that legislators will spend most of their time debating gun bills that will do absolutely nothing to address the problems of violence in our society.

You can help keep the discussion on track by urging the legislators who represent you in Augusta participate in SAM's important gun education workshop. Please.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or georgesmithmaine@gmail.com. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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