To the Editor:
Maine has a tradition of responsible gun ownership; our firearms death rate is amongst the lowest in the nation. News of spectacular mass shootings and routine shootings in domestic abuse and other crimes is of particular chagrin to responsible gun owners whose experience and knowledge affirm that gun violence is the exception rather than the rule. Safe gun use is in fact the norm.
However, each year so many people in the United States die of gun violence that the Center for Disease Control lists it in the top five causes of death for people under 65. The American Medical Association has declared gun violence a public health crisis. What can we do about it?
There is no silver bullet. Too many smoking guns are in the wrong hands. Here in Maine (with among the highest rates of firearms death in New England) a coalition of hunters and gun control advocates, law enforcement and sports enthusiasts proposed a referendum to close a loophole in our law – unlicensed gun sellers are currently exempted from conducting the background checks required of licensed dealers. In a few months, this citizens’ initiative collected more than 65,000 signatures certified valid by the state. This Election Day, we can vote to close the loophole, leveling the playing field for gun sellers, protecting law abiding unlicensed sellers from abetting crimes. It will prevent Maine from being a go-to state for criminals and those who cannot pass background checks elsewhere.
There is much valid debate over the efficacy of background checks in preventing firearms injury and death. Analysis of studies shows the data, however compelling, to be inconclusive – in part because of the paucity of research. In 1997, Congress barred the CDC from researching injury and death from gun violence and later restored funding only for studies of traumatic brain injury. There also are gaping holes in the laws.
Our current background check law has prevented felons, domestic abusers and people with severe mental illness from purchasing guns from licensed dealers in Maine. It defies all common sense to allow unlicensed sellers to provide guns to people already known to have broken the law. Closing the gun sales law background check loophole will not expand the scope of the law it will, reasonably, extend it to cover all sales.
We can rest assured that extending our existing law will not infringe on our constitutional rights. In the landmark case upholding our Second Amendment right to gun ownership, the Supreme Court majority (including conservative Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito) explicitly noted there is “no doubt” that longstanding laws imposing conditions on the sales of firearms are constitutional.
I would ask you all to consider voting “yes” to close the background check loophole. While candlelight vigils memorialize victims of gun violence, better laws protect us all. Better laws might indeed result in fewer vigils and with no risk to our constitutional rights. A “yes” vote is a step in the right direction.