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The Gun Debate Begins in Augusta
02/06/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

They come from all types of professional backgrounds and opposing political parties, but its members are united in efforts to curb incidents of violence involving firearms. The Coalition for a Safer Maine held a press conference at the statehouse today, in support of universal background checks for gun buyers, a ban on large ammunition magazines and restrictions on access to guns by those deemed to be mentally ill.

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The Gun Debate Begins in Augusta
Originally Aired: 2/6/2013 5:30 PM
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 Duration:
3:39

Emergency room physicians are on the front lines of gun violence in the United States, testing their best skills to save the victims of gunshot wounds. But Dr. Robert McAfee, a Portland surgeon and former president of the American Medical Association, said the large ammunition magazines on rifles like that used in the Newtown, Conn. killings last year has made the job even tougher.

"The rifle muzzle end velocity of almost 3,000 feet per second, that's a thousand yards per second, that's 10 football fields per second, per second, per second, per second, per second, until that magazine is empty," McAfee said.

And McAfee said its time that something be done to address what he sees as an increasingly pervasive culture of violence in Maine. He cites the promotion of gun violence in television, video games and rap music. Worst of all, McAfee said, are movies that glorify violence.

"There is no G-rated film currently playing in the Portland area and I haven't found one in the last month, a movie that parents can take their children to see," McAfee said. "This past weekend, the one that opened to the greatest audience response was entitled A Bullet To The Head, A Bullet To The Head."

McAfee and a coalition of supporters that include former U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby and former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert are throwing their professional reputations behind a number of gun bills at the statehouse, making the call for "No More Newtowns." First term Democratic state Rep. Mark Dion, a Portland lawyer and former Cumberland County sheriff, is sponsoring legislation that will expand the current criminal background check required for commercial dealers. Under the bill, private dealers, which he said account for 40% of all firearm sales, would also have to carry out the checks. Dion's bill would also prohibit the sale of ammunition magazines containing more than seven rounds. Dion said his legislation would also attempt to limit access to guns by deemed to be mentally ill by a judge.

"We're going to take a look at the civil commitment process in order that people who have been white-papered or blue-papered would be denied the ability to purchase firearms," Dion said.

But even some supporters of the coalitions goals said there are some sticky issues to sort through.

"I don't think we clearly have a definition of who is mentally ill," said Rep. Ken Fredette (R-Newport).
Fredette is an attorney from Newport, said its crucial that the constitutional rights of those deemed as mentally ill, including their privacy rights, be protected. In addition to facing potential challenges from civil rights advocates, members of the coalition may also see some opposition by members of the sporting community, although Bruce Holmes said isn't sure why. Holmes, a Manchester resident and a hunter himself, said the proposed gun restrictions will have no impact on hunters and represent a legitimate response to increasing incidents of gun violence.

"These are just common sense steps that we need to take to ensure that tragedies such as Sandy Hook or Littleton just stop happening," Holmes said. "I want my grandchildren to respect guns. I want them to enjoy hunting. I don't want them to cringe at the sight of a gun and I don't want them to fear a classroom."

Apart from the efforts of the coalition, Gov. Paul LePage said in his State of the State Address that he plans to sign an executive order that will make it easier for law enforcement officials to collect any guns owned by those named in a protection from abuse order.

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