Close the gun sale loophole

By Bill Horner

Are we really going to do nothing … again?

I wish to speak directly to my fellow sportsmen in the 2nd Congressional District of Maine. I am a Bar Harbor native, where I grew up, went away for education and came back to raise my kids and take care of you as a general and trauma surgeon, practicing more than 20 years in Bangor. My wife and I have come to love Katahdin, the people of northern Maine, the lakes, the trout and, for the last 22 years, a camp on Sourdnahunk Lake.

I hunted a lot when I was young – got my first deer when I was 15 and still have the old .300 Savage that did the job. I went to the Maine Conservation Camp on Branch Lake and got to paddle a canoe with Mose Jackson. I fly fish for trout and salmon now and let most of them go. I love going to camp the way you do, especially to crack open the door in the spring and smell the spruce for the first time in months.

Question 3, which would tighten background checks on gun sales, is not about the Second Amendment, which I support. It is not about confiscation or control or the rantings of the liberal elite, as I have been labeled by some. It is about protecting you, the public, from harm, a public health issue on which physicians should be taking a lead as we always have done with major health issues. We need your help.

The now widely circulated Question 3 reads: “Do you want to require background checks prior to the sale or transfer of firearms between individuals not licensed as firearms dealers, with failure to do so punishable by law, and with some exceptions for family members, hunting, self-defense, lawful competitions, and shooting range activity?”

This is the citizen initiative you will see on your Nov. 8 ballot. It is an incomplete question, causing some confusion to its supporters, while providing grist for the mill for its detractors.

On March 24, the legislature passed it to us citizens to thrash out. The process provided detail that may clarify the “some exceptions” component of the question. For instance, the vague “self-defense” exception states specifically that the transfer is temporary and is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.

In contrast to what the opposition says, my neighbor would not be criminalized for loaning me his AR-15 to hold off an attack by individuals bent on killing me or my family. Other exceptions pertain to intra-family transfers, firearm curios or relics, antique firearms, transfer to or from a law enforcement agency, intent of use at a shooting range or lawfully organized shooting competition, while engaged in lawful hunting or trapping, or upon the death of a person for whom the receiver is legally named in an estate or will. Please it read for yourself.

While the vast majority of Maine gun owners are law-abiding hunters, collectors and shooting competition enthusiasts, we do have a problem. And it is not a small problem. Here in Maine, it is simply too easy to circumvent federal law, which applies only to licensed dealers, and purchase weapons through private unlicensed dealers who may sell at gun shows, through published advertisements, online or in other settings.

Two examples of unlicensed dealers in Maine are the widely known “Uncle Henry’s” magazine and the less known national website Between them, according to a recent four-year study, an average of 3,000 gun ads are posted yearly, none of those transactions require a background check. Sales from these sites are impossible to determine, of course, because the market is entirely unregulated. It is generally stated that up to 40 percent of annual gun sales occur in this manner.

Who wants background checks on gun sales in Maine? In a September survey of 509 citizens, a Portland Press Herald/University of New Hampshire study found 61 percent supported and 33 percent opposed the measure. In Maine, the problem isn’t hunting rifles or shotguns. It is handguns that, while legitimate for self-defense, easily can be involved in domestic violence or suicide or accidental discharge in the home or – as in my son’s case – his murder.

Handguns are what the bad guys are looking for and buying. Don’t you think it’s worthwhile to try to get a handle on the problem? Please join me in support of Question 3.

Bill Horner is a retired physician and resident of Bar Harbor.

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