Former U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby recently appeared in a “Yes on 3” campaign ad to support the expansion of background checks for firearm sales and a new category of transfers that includes temporary use. Silsby claimed that there were “loopholes” in Maine firearm laws, and said, “More than 1,500 guns sold in Maine turned up at crime scenes in other states.” In front of her in the ad appeared the image, “Bangor Daily News, 11/17/2009.”
This ad makes it appear Maine is the wild-west of gun trafficking. Except, when you go to the article referenced, this is what the story says: “Data compiled by ATF traced 97 of the 1,534 guns it recovered in 2008 in Massachusetts to Maine.” Silsby got it all wrong — when you look at ATF’s actual data of traced guns that originated in Maine and later recovered outside of Maine for 2008 in all of the United States, it was 248. Silsby and Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership owe Maine people an apology.
According to the ATF, in 2015, Maine was the eighth-lowest state in the nation in that category, with 277 firearms found at a crime scenes in other states.
The Yes on 3 campaign also claims if we pass Question 3 it will keep guns out of the hands of “bad guys.” Let’s look at how a similar plan worked in the three states (2015) where almost identical laws have been in effect for several years, Colorado (879), Oregon (828), and Washington state, (1,145).
Silsby claims there are “loopholes” in Maine law that allow criminals to easily get guns and then traffic them out of state.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 is a federal law that regulates everyone: firearm industry, dealers and individual gun owners. The GCA regulates commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearm sales and transfers, except by licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers. Subject to limited exceptions, a person may only acquire a firearm legally within their own state.
The GCA makes it an offense for non-licensees “to transport into or receive in the State where he resides … any firearm purchased or otherwise obtained by such person outside that State,” except as specifically permitted. It is also a federal crime for non-licensees to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm having “reasonable cause to believe” that such person is legally prohibited from possessing a gun.
Generally, the GCA also prohibits any private or dealer sale where the facts suggest the purchaser is a non-resident. A non-resident visiting Maine may buy a rifle or shotgun from an federally licensed dealer, but only in person, at the dealer’s business, with federal forms and a background check.
Otherwise, for a non-resident to legally purchase a Maine gun, the firearm must be sent to a licensed dealer in that person’s state of residence. The buyer must then undergo the background check and complete the federal forms before returning to Maine.
The GCA also prohibits residents from acquiring firearms at a gun show outside their own state. An out-of-state buyer may place an order with a gun dealer at a gun show, in which case the firearm is shipped to a dealer located in the buyer’s state of residence and the buyer undergoes a background check, meeting any additional state requirements. In addition, gun dealers must conduct background checks on Maine buyers at Maine gun shows.
“Yes on 3” proponents claim that gun sales may be made via classifieds or online. Can guns legally be mailed to the buyer’s home without a background check? No. The GCA makes handguns and concealable firearms non-mailable. A violation is already a federal felony.
Under the GCA, it is already illegal for anyone to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer on behalf of someone else. This is called a “straw purchase” — it is already a crime.
There are no “loopholes” that allow non-residents to traffic guns in and out of Maine. Some guns might legally have traveled across the state lines when gun owners moved out of Maine. Others were illegally acquired and transported in violation of the existing law. Question 3 won’t make a bit of difference for either case. It doesn’t apply to the first scenario, and in the second, criminals who don’t obey existing laws, won’t obey new laws.
The only private firearm sales in Maine now legal under federal law are from one Maine resident to another who is not prohibited from owning a firearm. Question 3 could have been written to address these types of in-state sales, but it was not.
If background checks made us safer, Question 3 might merit revision. We know they don’t.
In 2000, the American Medical Association did a national study on this very issue. The AMA study showed no improvement in homicide or suicide rates in states with expanded background checks. Someone should get this study to Silsby.
*This article was originally published on centralmaine.com.