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M.D. Harmon: Gun control, from Washington, DC to Augusta

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This was “gun week” in Augusta, with lawmakers lined up to conduct hearings on more than two dozen bills to either restrict or, in a few cases, expand firearm owners’ rights. Few, if any, of the proposed restrictions would have prevented the mass murders of recent experience from happening.

When people say they want to act for a particular purpose, but their actions don’t match their words, others are entitled to suspect – or even to conclude – that their real reasons for action are not the ones they say, but are being concealed for some undisclosed purpose.

Of course, some statements are true enough on their face: As the Portland Press Herald reported Monday, “Gun control proponents are hoping that public outrage over the shooting of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school at Newtown, Conn., last December will translate into political momentum. ‘The Newtown shooting was a game changer,’ said Bill Harwood, founder of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.”

One can be certain that is their hope. Whether it is a well-founded one, however, remains to be seen.

A couple of recent stories bear on that question: First, as the libertarian web site Reason.com reported April 8, “The law-enforcement support site PoliceOne.com has released the results of a massive survey in which ‘more than 15,000 verified law enforcement professionals’ were asked 30 questions about current gun control proposals. The results may surprise you.”

Indeed they might: “‘Contrary to what the mainstream media and certain politicians would have us believe,’ writes Police One Editor in Chief Doug Wyllie, ‘police overwhelmingly favor an armed citizenry, would like to see more guns in the hands of responsible people, and are skeptical of any greater restrictions placed on gun purchase, ownership, or accessibility.’”

Second, the Wall Street Journal reported April 4 that a clear trend has emerged in state-level laws addressing firearms rights — and the trend is toward laws that expand them, not restrict them.

As the paper said in a Page 1 story, “This year, five states (including Colorado, New York and Connecticut) have passed seven laws that strengthen gun restrictions, while 10 states have passed 17 laws that weaken them, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which tracks and promotes gun-control laws.”

And it continued, “Also helping the pro-gun-rights cause is that Republicans control 30 governorships and have full control of most state legislatures, easing the path for gun-rights measures. Of the 15 legislatures that have passed pro-gun-rights bills on to the governor, 13 are controlled by Republicans. Democrat-controlled legislatures have failed to pass gun limits in some states, like Washington and New Mexico, and have had to weaken gun-control bills in others, including Minnesota.”

MEANWHILE, WHAT KIND of laws were proposed in Maine to deal with such outrages as occurred at the hands of a crazed gunman in Newtown, or in Aurora, Colo., where a crazed gunman shot up a movie theater, or in Arizona, where another crazed gunman wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed nearly a dozen others at a public rally? (Notice the common factor beyond firearms?)

Well, the bills proposed in the Maine Legislature that might have some useful effect would be LD 529 and LD 905, which would study school access areas and school security in general, to make it harder for people to enter.

In addition, LD 958 would keep concealed weapons permits out of the hands of people involuntarily committed to mental institutions.

Of course, as National Rifle Association Executive Director Wayne LaPierre has pointed out, the best way to stop someone with a firearm is to have someone else with a firearm present, and a number of other states, including Utah and Texas, are acting to either provide security guards or train and/or arm selected teachers.

It hasn’t been commented on in the major media, but the Newtown school district came to the same conclusion, and authorized armed guards for its institutions. However, none of the bills now before the Legislature here would provide such protection for Maine students.

Instead, LD 267 would require background checks for private sales at gun shows (national studies show these account for less than 5 percent of all gun show firearms sales. Most private sales are conducted via advertisements or word-of-mouth).

LD 997 would limit “ammunition feeding devices” such as detachable magazines to 10 rounds (nothing is easier than changing one such magazine for another. A bit of practice can get the time required down to 5 seconds or even less).

LD 265 would repeal the two-year-old state statute barring employers from banning firearms in employees’ cars parked on their property (this is sold as an “employer-rights” measure, but what it really would do is deprive workers with gun permits from being able to carry firearms for self-defense during their commutes from home to work and back again).

THERE ARE MORE, BUT not every one is harmful to Mainers’ rights under the Second Amendment and the Maine Constitution.

LD 660, for example, would establish “constitutional carry” in Maine. Similar to laws on the books in Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska and Arizona, it would allow citizens to carry concealed weapons without permits, the same way they can carry weapons openly now.

And the law that would make carry permit holders’ identities private came out of committee with a solid majority vote.

But perhaps the worst of the bunch is LD 1240, which would on the plus side allow police to take guns away from people admitted to a psychiatric hospital on an emergency basis, but would also increase the minimum age for a concealed carry permit from 18 to 21 (we let 18-year-olds handle machine guns for the military, but something keeps them from qualifying to carry a .38?) and require background checks for all private gun sales except to family members.

But the absolute worst part of the bill is that it would require all gun buyers to take a firearm safety course.

So much for “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” It’s one thing to have the government create limited groups of people not entitled to own firearms for good reasons — felons, the insane, children, etc. — and quite another to have the government think it can require that a free people get official permits to exercise their rights!

(I don’t use italic type and exclamation points very often, but that sentence required both.)

THE OTHER THING THAT’S interesting about this week’s crop of gun bills is the one that isn’t present. Have you noticed what it is?

You’re right. There is no proposal to ban so-called “assault rifles,” which are really just semi-auto rifles identical in operation, if not in appearance, to commonly used “deer rifles” whose operating principles were first used in firearms over a century ago.

Such weapons are rarely used in crimes, but if I’m sure of anything, I’m sure that’s not the reason no such bill was introduced in Maine, and why Sen. Diane Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) ban on such weapons was dropped from the Democratic bill submitted in the Senate (which is not where the decision will be made anyway, as the House will be the deciding venue – and likely graveyard – for any federal gun control bills this year).

No, even rabid gun controllers (if that’s not redundant) knew that such a bill would gin up opposition so strong that it would undoubtedly doom any new restrictions. So they dropped it, in order to try to get something through (just like Senate Democrats).

AT THIS POINT, LET’S say a few words about polls, which anti-gun forces are citing at both the state and national levels as proof the public supports their proposed restrictions. First, the most recent national polls show support for such laws slipping as time passes, and now should major efforts garnering less than majority support (just 47 percent in one recent survey).

Maine polls are taken less often, but a March survey said there was majority support in Maine for magazine limits and more background checks. But another thing hidden behind those numbers that politicians know full well is that such polls may measure (temporary) sentiment but don’t do a good job evaluating intensity of support.

That is, some people will answer a poll question one way, but vote or send money based on entirely different issues they feel much more strongly about.

But for gun-rights activists, firearms civil rights are a top-level issue, and they vote and fund candidates based on views on gun freedoms more than any other. Such supporters can make a big difference beyond their mere numbers and politicians’ ire them at their own risk.

Which is why there is no “assault-weapons” ban proposed in Maine, and why many of the bills being discussed this week will not survive. Even if they pass the Legislature, Gov. LePage is unlikely to sign many of them, and there probably isn’t enough support in the Legislature to pass them over his vetoes (another reason to think hard about the 2014 governor’s race).

FINALLY, LET’S EXAMINE A COUPLE OF national points. First, not all national polls point to support for restricting our freedoms. A Pew Research poll published in mid-January had a majority of Americans (53 percent) saying, for the first time in decades, that Washington threatened “their personal rights and freedoms.”

While Republicans were highest, at 76 percent, independents chimed in at 55 percent agreement, and even 38 percent of Democrats said they distrusted D.C., too.

Second, in an April 8 column on The American Spectator’s website, spectator.org, headlined, “Guns Responsible for Global Warming,” that liberals’ gun control arguments are, as I noted in my introduction above, a “false narrative” similar to the one they have offered for years on “global warming.”

As the warmists’ agenda is aimed at economic control rather than climate change, so the gun-grabbers’ agenda is aimed at political control rather than public safety.

“For every issue,” Babbin says, “there is a narrative: a set of assumptions and boundaries of thought with which every story (and editorial) is slated to agree. False narratives usually serve the left well.”

However, he says, the liberals’ campaign to demonize the so-called “gun lobby,” no matter how it resounds in the echo chamber of a sympathetic media, “doesn’t matter because gun owners are not slick Inside the Beltway types. They’re not lobbyists or wealthy company owners or any of the people the liberals are trying to demonize. Instead, they’re the guy who keeps a snub-nosed .38 in his nightstand to protect his family. They’re the guys and gals who keep a couple of shotguns or deer rifles to hunt game. And they’re people who collect guns for the hell of it.”

Those average Americans, Babbin notes, are not, “like the NYT insists, crazies who think they may have to take arms against their government. Rather they’re people who have two things in common. First, they appreciate and insist on the freedoms preserved in the Second Amendment. Second, they have an abiding distrust of the government whenever it starts tinkering with gun control.”

A distrust, I may add, that is well-grounded, well-established, and well-deserved.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: mdharmoncol@yahoo.com


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