Commentary

Exemptions Are Actually Landmines in Question 3

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Question 3 on this November’s ballot has been touted by gun control advocates as a way to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. In reality, it is nothing more than a feel-good measure that will strip away the rights of law-abiding gun owners and sportsmen in Maine.

The question asks, “Do you want to require background checks prior to the sale or transfer of firearms between individuals not licensed as firearms dealers, with failure to do so punishable by law, and with some exceptions for family members, hunting, self-defense, lawful competitions and shooting range activity?”

While to the average person this language seems fairly benign, the devil is truly in the details, as this legislation would criminalize activities that are ordinary and traditional in Maine.

The fine print of this legislation dictates exactly how, when, where and with whom firearm owners and sportsmen may “exchange, sell and lend” their guns through a series of intentionally confusing exemptions, with very strict penalties for breaking the law.

Just to loan a firearm to a friend, neighbor, or client, the gun owner and borrower would both have to go to a federally licensed firearm dealer (FFL) to fill out government forms, pay the $30-60 fee, and have the background check done. When the borrower is ready to return the loaned gun, the same procedure and fees apply.

To further complicate matters, because the FFL procedure doesn’t distinguish between sales and other kinds of “transfers” (like loans), before the initial transfer the owner should ideally have a notarized letter clearly stating that the ownership or title of the firearm is not being relinquished.

There are a few exemptions which apply, including transfers between family members (which are of course defined), transfers temporarily occurring at a specified “established shooting range,” or transfers that occur during hunting, to name a few.

But the actual wording of each exemption imposes several prerequisites and conditions to qualify, creating traps that would be extremely easy for law-abiding gun owners to fall into.

For example, there’s an exemption for temporary transfers at an “established shooting range,” but the vast majority of target shooting in Maine occurs on the “back 40” or in gravel pits. Firearm transfers in these settings will no longer be permitted should Question 3 pass.

Similarly, the exemption for hunting is impossibly narrow. The gun owner would have to transfer the firearm while the transferee is in the act of hunting, and the transfer and all possession of the loaned gun must occur only in places where hunting is legal and only during legal hunting hours. This means that the gun owner would essentially have to follow their buddy to the tree stand (after opening time), hand the firearm up into the tree and return before closing time to ensure that no hunting laws are broken.

If the borrower is not hunting in a stand, he or she must be sure to never unintentionally enter a buffer zone around a building or cross through land that is posted as “no hunting” — or that transfer is no longer legal.

While there is an exemption for a temporary transfer of a gun made in the “actual presence” of the gun lender, “actual presence” is not defined in either the referendum or Maine law, so it is unclear how this exemption works in practice. Does the lender have to remain at an arm’s length from the borrower? Within eyesight? In the same room?

We will have to wait until someone is prosecuted to find out how that part of the law will be interpreted.

These are just a few examples that illustrate how, when it comes to Question 3, exemptions are actually more like landmines, ripe with ways for hunters to become criminals.

Simply reading through the language of the bill and its numerous “exemptions” makes it clear that Bloomberg’s real goal is to control the way law-abiding gun owners interact with each other, and to lay the groundwork for a universal gun registry, which would be necessary for the enforcement of this ballot question.

About Krysta West

Krysta West is the Communications Director for The Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to her time with MHPC, Krysta served as a Legislative Assistant at the National Rifle Association. Krysta is a native of Arundel, Maine, and has served as an aide in the Maine Legislature.

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