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Gun Show Law Ads Target Maine's Two Senators
04/21/2010   Reported By: Tom Porter

You may have noticed a new TV commercial hitting the airwaves this week, in support of legislation pending in the U.S. House and Senate to close the so-called "gun show loophole."

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"Eleven years after Columbine, it's time. Call your senator and tell them to sponsor the bill to close the gun show loophole," a narrator intones.

The ads are appearing on the national networks, as well as in targeted local markets across five states, including Maine. The latest six-figure media blitz was launched yesterday by mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York.

The campaign, which asks viewers to urge their senators to support the bill, is timed to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. The commercial reminds viewers that the Columbine killers were able to purchase their guns because of a gap in the law enabling people to buy firearms at gun shows without undergoing a background check.

Federal law currently requires all licensed dealers to conduct background checks on all prospective buyers. The law, however, does not apply to private dealers making so-called 'occasional sales,' something which tends to take place at gun shows.

"This is one way where criminals have been able to access guns with no questions asked, so what this bill would do would require everyone at a gun show to do the background checks," says Lewiston mayor Larry Gilbert, one of four Maine mayors, and more than 500 across the country, to join "Mayors Against Illegal Guns," the coalition behind the campaign.

He's also a former police chief and United States Marshal. In 2009, says Gilbert, murders of police officers by criminals using guns increased by 26 percent, while other evidence suggests a link between crime and the gun show loophole.

"According to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, 30 percent of illegally-trafficked guns are connected to gunshows," Gilbert says.

And according to data from the Web site of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 85 percent of gun owners support closing the loophole, and an undercover investigation found 63 percent of private sellers sold guns to people even when they said they couldn't pass a background check.

"How much more evidence do we need before we start saying we want to help our law enforcement officers to protect us as a society?" Gilbert asks.

Many gun owners, and gun dealers, however, feel that this proposed change in legislation is not needed. "It is basically a very responsible operation nationwide that sells literally millions of firearms annually without any major incident," says Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association.

"It's clear that this bill creates a defacto gun owner registration database in states where registration is not required, such as here in Maine," Weinstein says. "It subverts the law-abiding individuals' right to purchase, without any encumbrances, any firearm of their choice."

He describes attempts to change the firearms purchase law as unconstitutional. And he doesn't like the term 'loophole,' because it suggests something is wrong with the law.

Weinstein says the Maine Gun Owners Association has no objection to background checks before a gun can be purchased.

But the bill, he says, goes way beyond that, by creating a database of all gun owners -- something not required by state law, he adds.

"The violation of civil rights -- we're talking about the attorney general being able to walk into a gun show at any time and demand records and count guns and do all kinds of investigatory procedures without a warrant, without probable cause," he says.

Lewiston mayor Larry Gilbert points out that gun shows are already subject to such investigation at the federal level, by the ATF. "If you have to do it federally, what's the difference?" he says.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, however, appears not to have been swayed by arguments to "close the loophole." A spokesman for Collins, in a written statement, says "while Senator Collins supports common-sense steps to prevent criminals from buying guns, she does not believe that imposing additional requirements on law-abiding citizens purchasing firearms at gun shows will change the behavior of those intent on using firearms for criminal purposes," adding that "gun dealers already perform background checks on purchasers at gun shows."

A spokeswoman for Sen. Olympia Snowe, meanwhile, says she is still reviewing the bill.



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