What is the firearm ordinance in your town?
A lot of the more populated communities in Maine have “shotgun-only” hunting regulations. They make a lot of sense. Shot will often fall to the ground within 300 yards, limiting the danger of negligent fire. Yet a bullet from a rifle can travel miles. In a populated area, that can mean houses or cars — or worse — get hit. Not good.
“Shotgun-only” ordinances are what you might call “common-sense” gun laws. They focus on how firearms are used based on their specific capabilities, and regulate a specific threat from a hunter who doesn’t hit his target.
Meanwhile, Mainers will face Question 3 on the ballot this November. We’ve already heard a lot about it. Its advocates say it is a common-sense measure which will keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Who doesn’t support that?
Unfortunately, the actual law is a shotgun approach with an open choke. For those more familiar with fisheries than firearms, you might say there is a lot of bycatch. Regardless of the analogy, it makes many historic practices illegal and could turn good, respectable citizens into criminals.
Start at home. One of the double-edged swords of being a small state is having tightly knit communities, often populated with extended relatives. It is why we keep the old verb “cousining” alive, despite some strange looks from those unfamiliar with Maine vocabulary. A lot of Mainers are very close to their cousins, be they of the first, second or third degree.
Yet Question 3 limits “family” to your first cousins. If your children want to lend their great-grandfather’s Luger he brought back from Germany to your cousin’s kids, they will need to find a federally licensed firearm dealer to conduct background checks on their kin. And then they will need to go to the dealer again if they want to give it back, generally paying the dealer for his time and effort completing the check instead of engaging in business.
Or head back to this column’s first question. Imagine you have a friend — just retired after 25 years of Army service — who moved to Maine to start the rest of his life. The lucky dog got his name pulled in the moose lottery. The problem? He only owns a .243 — read, small — rifle. So you lend him your .30-06, a firearm sufficient to humanely hunt large game.
If you live in a “shogun-only” town and Question 3’s law was on the books, you and your Army buddy likely just became criminals. Why? The “hunting exception” is limited to transfers “if such activity is legal in all places where the transferee possesses the firearm.” Hunting with rifles is illegal in your “shotgun-only” town.
Social media chatterati will claim these examples are unrealistic. And even if they happened, no prosecutor or court would ever implement the law that way. That is a big assumption. After all, no one thought an agricultural burn — even if illegal — would lead to terrorism charges.
Or look at Massachusetts. For 18 years, a law was on the books and consistently enforced one way by successive Democratic attorneys general. Then one day — with no public debate or legislative action — the new AG decided she thought the law meant something different. Poof, licensed, law-abiding gun dealers, you’re now all on the cusp of becoming criminals.
When these types of concerns — be they hypothetical or concrete — about Question 3 are offered by opponents, supporters retort, “so, what, we should simply do nothing?”
No one is saying that. Not the sheriffs of Oxford, Franklin or Androscoggin counties who oppose this particular proposal. Not organizations like the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Not top Democrats like Reps. Jeff McCabe or John Martin.
But by any objective measure, Maine is one of the safest states in the nation when it comes to gun violence. And as we saw over the past week, criminals are criminals and will use anything at their disposal — whether firearms, knives, pipe bombs, or pressure cookers — to cause harm.
So, if we need to do something, let’s first identify the problem. If it is unscrupulous, unlicensed dealers selling guns to criminals, then draft legislation to clarify when someone enters the business of selling firearms and becomes subject to existing federal regulation. But, whether you’re firing a firearm or passing a law, responsibility begins with clearly identifying your target.
If you don’t know what you’re going to hit — whether extended families or hunters — don’t pull the trigger. That rule applies equally to a shotgun, a .30-06, or Question 3.