AUGUSTA — Attendees, vendors and representatives from gun rights groups expressed concern Saturday at a gun show at the Augusta Civic Center about bills that could change state gun laws.
Hundreds of gun enthusiasts packed the Civic Center floor on Saturday to browse a large selection of modern and antique firearms.
The Portland Press Herald reported earlier this month that the Democratic-majority Legislature has proposed a number of bills to regulate firearms further in Maine.
Measures being proposed could force universal background checks on all firearm sales, instituting red-flag measures to take guns from potentially dangerous people, allowing municipalities the right to ban guns locally from voting places and town meetings, banning large-capacity magazine sales and regulating gun storage in homes.
Gun Owners of Maine President Todd Tolhurst said at the show that a number of the proposals being floated have been seen before.
“These are recycled from generations past,” he said.
At the show, the group distributed a bulletin proclaiming “Anti-gun Fever in Augusta” and listed about two dozen titles of proposed bills that the group believes could infringe on gun owners’ rights. A lot of the proposals listed have no language, just titles, ranging from “An Act Regarding Gun Control” to “An Act to Allow Municipalities to Prohibit Firearms on Municipally Owned Property.”
“Right now, all we know are the titles of these bills,” he said. “Obviously, we are going to have some concerns about a number of these things.”
Tolhurst said there is no evidence linking a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines to increased safety for the public.
“The whole point of a magazine is that it can be swapped out quickly,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter if it’s 10 rounds or 30 rounds; you can swap it very quickly. Other states have done this, and it has had no effect. Why do we do things that have proven to accomplish nothing?”
Tolhurst said his group favors L.D. 85, which would establish a sales tax exemption and an income tax deduction of up to $250 for the purchases of “firearm safety devices.” Devices would include safes, lock boxes and trigger and barrel locks.
“The intention behind that sort of thing is to encourage the safe storage of firearms, which I think everybody agrees on.” Tolhurst said. “Gun safes can be rather large and expensive, so we use tax policy to encourage good behavior, so why wouldn’t we use it here?”
Despite interest in the Legislature, Gov. Janet Mills said earlier this month that she will not support universal background checks in Maine, recalling a 2016 proposal that voters rejected.
“The people have already spoken on background checks and they spoke pretty loud and clear,” Mills said. “Thirteen out of 16 counties voted against background checks. That’s a significant thing to me, the will of the people. We should make sure we listen to the will of the people.”
Jeff Zimba, a firearms specialist for Poulin Antiques and Auction, weapons tester and author from Waterville, said the proposal to ban firearms in town meetings could fly in the face of pre-emption laws passed in 1989 that prohibited municipalities from passing stricter gun laws than those of the state.
“That’s a really dangerous one,” he said. “The reason that that’s in there is so we don’t have a patchwork of go, no-go places for firearms.”
When asked about his reaction to a number of the bills being floated, Sam White, 19, of Waldoboro, said some legislators and members of the public don’t know enough about guns to legislate the use or possession of them. He said he wasn’t really concerned about who was in office, unless they attempted to restrict his own gun ownership.
“My look at the whole gun situation is people in office don’t know their facts,” he said. “The media is … basically lying straight to their face.”
“Personally, as long as people aren’t trying to take my guns away, I’m OK with whoever is in office. But if you’re trying to take my guns away, we’re going to have a problem.”
White did say red-flag measures, which have been passed in 13 states, could prevent some potentially dangerous people from possessing firearms legally. Those measures allow a household member or a law enforcement officer to petition a court to remove a firearm from a person’s possession if the court finds the person to be a significant risk to himself or herself or others.
“I understand (some people) shouldn’t have any type of firearm,” White said, adding that most gun owners support safety measures that don’t hamper their ability to possess guns.
Zimba, who was selling copies of his book “The Evolution of the Black Rifle: 20 Years of Upgrades, Options and Accessories” at the show, said the gun-owning community gets an unfair reputation from the news media. He said gun owners are usually family- and safety-oriented, gesturing towards strollers being pushed by show attendees to demonstrate that assertion.
“It’s really a good industry to be a part of,” Zimba said. “If riches were measured in friendships, I’d give Bill Gates a run for his money.”
The gun show was hosted by New England Events. Owner Matt Mayberry said the company holds nine gun shows a year in Maine and New Hampshire. He said all sellers were background-checked before the show.
The show, which features both modern and vintage firearms, originally was scheduled to be held for two days, but the Sunday session was canceled because heavy snow is expected.
Sam Shepherd — 621-5666