© 2024 Maine Public | Registered 501(c)(3) EIN: 22-3171529
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Scroll down to see all available streams.

After a mass shooting, Maine lawmakers find little agreement on measures to stop gun violence

Firearms for rent at Centennial Gun Club. The coalition leads occasional training sessions here for doctors and medical students to learn about firearm mechanics and safety, with an option to target shoot at a gun range.
Gabor Degre
Bangor Daily News

Mass shootings have been an almost weekly occurrence in the U.S. But with exception of a ban on the so-called straw purchase of guns, Maine lawmakers have been hopelessly deadlocked about what to do to stop the violence.

The Gun Violence Archive, an online database of gun violence incidents in the U.S, defines a mass shooting as an event in which four or more people are shot with a gun.

And by that measure, the killing of four people in Bowdoin last month puts Maine on the list of 226 mass shootings so far this year.

The murders of Cynthia Eaton, David Eaton, Robert Eger and Patricia Eger rocked the state, but it hasn't dislodged partisan disagreements over what to do to prevent gun violence.

Those disputes were on full display Wednesday as the Legislature's criminal justice committee split along party lines over a slate of proposals that ran the gamut of the gun debate — from strengthening background checks to barring state and local law enforcement from enforcing federal gun laws.

"Reasonable people are asking for something to happen and some of these bills seem reasonable," said Rep. Suzanne Salisbury, a Democrat from Westbrook who co-chairs the criminal justice committee.

Her comments came as the committee was preparing to vote on a bill that would create a three-day waiting period before a someone could obtain a firearm after purchasing it from a dealer.

But it was clear that the vote would not be bipartisan, frustrating Salisbury.

"If these bills aren't the answer to address the current issue of gun violence then what is the answer? Because I haven't fully heard it from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and I don't know what the answer is," she said.

"It's not that we're not willing to talk. It's that we have different ideas," responded Rep. Robert Nutting, a Republican from Oakland.

Nutting defended his party's opposition to the three-day wait period bill, as well as the other proposals falling under the umbrella of gun control.

Republican lawmakers in Maine, and in other states, have generally taken the position that efforts to tighten gun access are ineffective, infringe on the constitutional rights of residents and hinder the ability of people to defend themselves.

And from Nutting's perspective, the waiting period bill checks all those boxes.

"This is an idea that we can't support and we won't support," he said. "But to color that as us not having any solutions is really unfair."

The proposal was also opposed by the National Rifle Association, which argued that it was duplicative of the three-day waiting period in federal law and would yield no additional information about a gun buyer than what's already offered in a standard background check.

So far, GOP solutions to mass shootings this year have leaned toward loosening gun restrictions, including arming teachers or repealing a state lawthat prohibits guns on or near public and private school property.

Such bills are unlikely to go far in Democratic-controlled Legislature, but neither are gun control bills without Republican support.

That's because support for gun restrictions has previously come with some electoral jeopardy, even for Democrats.

There has been talk of a potential compromise bill, including a state ban on straw purchases: the sale or transfer of a firearm to a person prohibited from possessing one.

But with the two parties so far apart on other gun violence proposals, it's unclear where exactly the middle ground lies — and whether it will help.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.