I recently searched for firearms on Uncle Henry’s, a classified advertisement publication available in print and online. There were more than a dozen for sale within 25 miles of my house. I could have met the seller in the local Wal-Mart parking lot and gone home with an “as-new Smith & Wesson AR-15,” paid for in cash. The seller wouldn’t have to know so much as my real name.
Since 1993, federal law has required licensed firearms dealers to run background checks on prospective purchasers. The National Instant Criminal Background Check went online in 1998. The FBI has used it to process 225 million background checks.
To run a check, the firearms dealer provides the purchaser with a 16-question form. The system scans for criminal and mental health history, dishonorable military discharges, immigration status, pending indictments, and drug use. In 90 percent of transactions, the decision of whether to allow the sale is made in the course of a single phone call.
In Maine, there’s a loophole. Anonymous gun sales are possible when the parties go to a gun show, to an alley or a parking lot, or to an Internet browser. That’s why my Uncle Henry’s scenario works.
On Nov. 8, Mainers can close that loophole by voting yes on Question 3. If passed, all sales or transfers of firearms would have to include a background check. For private transactions, then, the two parties would meet at a licensed dealer, who would run the check in their presence.
It’s like asking whether tax laws should apply to people who don’t want to report their income. The answer seems obvious.
But there’s a loud opposition that hopes to convince voters that the initiative is unconstitutional, illogical, and over-reaching. They’re wrong.
In 2008, Justice Antonin Scalia issued a Supreme Court decision announcing that an individual right to bear arms is protected under the Second Amendment. He reinforced, though, that “nothing in [the] opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill . . . or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” Question 3 simply applies a process that even Justice Scalia embraced.
Question 3 does not prohibit the sale of firearms, it funnels them through federally mandated checks. There are numerous exemptions, applicable in circumstances such as hunting, law enforcement, and threats to life. Family members – including domestic partners and members of blended families – can sell to each other without having a check run. The proposed law is all of three pages long, and can be read in full at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/citizens/background.pdf.
Implementation is feasible. The background check process already exists. In the same amount of time two parties could decide which parking lot to meet at, they can decide which licensed dealer to meet at. There are 468 such dealers in Maine – more than there are post offices – and 98.5 percent of Mainers live within 10 miles of one of them. At most, the additional time the initiative would impose on the sale of a firearm are the handful of minutes it would take to run a background check.
The opposition also tries to win on emotion. It claims Question 3 is being imposed on Maine by Michael Bloomberg of New York City. That’s because the organization he founded, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has donated money to the Question 3 campaign. The argument ignores the more than 85,000 Mainers who petitioned for the referendum and the thousands who have contributed to it. It also ignores that the NRA, a national coalition based out of Virginia, has organized and supported the Maine-based opposition.
No one claims this law alone would stop all criminals or end all gun violence; however, states that have already closed this loophole have seen a nearly 50 percent reduction in gun crimes against law enforcement and intimate partners, in suicides, and in gun trafficking. Illinois has strict gun laws; Chicago gun crimes are made possible by purchases in Indiana. Massachusetts has strict gun laws; Boston gun crimes are made possible by purchases in Maine. Closing the loophole closes options.
Vote yes on Question 3. Common sense, safety, and the Constitution are behind you.
Abby Diaz grew up in Falmouth and lives there again, because that’s how life works. She blogs at whatsleftover.com. Follow Abby on Twitter: @AbbyDiaz1.