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Maine Lawmakers Begin Hearings on Gun Control Bills
04/08/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

A week of public hearings on more than two dozen gun bills kicked off in Augusta this morning. Lawmakers heard hours of emotional testimony from supporters and opponents of a measure that would ban magazines the contain more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Another bill under consideration would require a universal background check on anyone purchasing a firearm in Maine. Jay Field reports.

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Supporters of tougher restrictions on firearms believe the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school was a tipping point on gun control. Legislatures across the nation have moved quickly to consider new limits in the months after the Newtown shootings.

Democratic governors in Connecticut, Colorado and New York have already signed into law tough overhauls that include measures like the one supported by Maine's Senate President. Justin Alfond, a Portland Democrat, invoked Newtown, as he introduced his bill to limit the size of ammunition clips.

"On that day, the murderer managed to fire 154 rounds with 10-round magazines; 26 people shot dead, 20 of them children. It only took 12 minutes," Alfond said.

Alfond's bill, LD 997, would outlaw magazines that carry more than 10 rounds. A poll last week by the Pan-Atlantic SMS Group surveyed more than 400 Maine residents on potential changes to the state's gun laws. A clear majority, 63 percent, favored outlawing clips holding more than 10 rounds, while 34 percent opposed such a change.

Turnout at the public hearing on Alfond's bill, though, suggests the public may be much more closely divided than recent polling suggests.

"We can put our firearms out on the porch. You can lay 'em on the lawn. You can put 'em anywhere you want. I haven't seen one of them get up on its own and harm anyone," said Blaine Richardson, a 30-year Navy veteran and former candidate for Congress in Maine's 2nd District.

Maine and other states, Richardson told lawmakers, have failed to take care of people with mental illness, who are most at risk for carrying out mass shootings. "It isn't my 30-round magazine that's causing the problem," he said.

But another veteran says that point of view defies common sense. Michele Pfannensteil, of Cumberland County, served as a U.S. Army Captain. Pfannensteil says semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazine have one purpose and one purpose only.

"They are for laying a lot of lead in the battlefield in a very short amount of time - lead to stop an advancing army," she said. "Maine citizens don't need clips with huge numbers of bullets."

But comments like these only served to embolden scores of gun rights supporters who turned out to testify. For these Mainers, anything that infringes on their right to bear arms, under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, is unacceptable.

James Lynch, who'd never testified at a legislative hearing before, put lawmakers on notice: "I'd like to remind everybody here, who is supporting this garbage LD 997, that, the American citizens - we're watching you."

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will continue their hearings on gun legislation on Tuesday.



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