Universal Notebook: Close the gun show loophole

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Back on April 13, with very little media attention, LD 814, An Act Regarding the Sale of Weapons at Gun Shows, received a unanimous ought-not-to-pass vote from the Maine legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee.

The proposed bill made a lot of sense. It would have closed the legal loophole that allows individuals to buy and sell firearms at gun shows without the criminal background checks that are required when someone buys a gun from a licensed gun dealer or sporting goods store. As it is, any nut job can wander into a gun show at a local armory or rod ‘n’ gun club and pick up a nice AK-47, no questions asked.

Curious about why such a sensible bill hadn’t even made it out of committee, I first called the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Anna Blodgett, D-Augusta. She told me that three members of the committee, including two of the bill’s co-sponsors, had withdrawn their support when it became obvious that the bill didn’t have a prayer. She also told me that she and other supporters of the bill had been the targets of insulting and threatening e-mails.

My own state senator, who voted against it in committee, told me that he had received 330 e-mails in opposition to LD 814. No surprise there. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the National Rifle Association are pretty well organized folks and they have hair-trigger reactions whenever they smell gun control in the air … which is constantly.

There seems to be a pervasive hysteria among a certain minority of gun owners that President Obama is out to take away their guns. Personally, I find people who think they may need to shoot it out with the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or, worse, the ATF far more frightening than whatever it is they’re so afraid of. I just can’t imagine feeling the need for an arsenal in order to get through my daily life. It must be terrible to be so frightened all the time.

“The level of paranoia in this country is ridiculous,” Bonnie Blythe of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence told me. “Sane people need to start speaking up or else.”

So, please, if you know someone who labors under the delusion that his Second Amendment rights are about to be taken away and who has sworn a blood oath that they’ll have to pry his gun out of his cold, dead hand, tell him it just ain’t so. Sane people simply want reasonable controls on gun sales and ownership in order to help stem the epidemic of gun violence in this country.

Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence brought Tom Mauser to Maine to testify on behalf of LD 814. Mauser’s son Daniel was killed in the 1999 Columbine school massacre by a student wielding a gun purchased legally at a gun show, so if he couldn’t persuade the Maine legislators, I’m sure I can’t. But there is hope.

In 2000, after the Colorado legislature refused to close the gun show loophole, as the Maine legislature has just done, the issue went to public referendum. An overwhelming 70 percent of Colorado voters approved the measure.

A federal bill to require background checks at gun shows was introduced in the U.S. Senate last week, but I say bring on the referendum. The NRA may be able to intimidate individual legislators, but it can’t intimidate the entire population of the State of Maine.

Sidebar Elements

beem-edgar-op.jpgThe Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s weekly personal look at
the world around him. “Backyard Maine,” a collection of his columns, is
available now at local bookstores.