It’s not all about guns

A legislative hearing last week on a modest gun bill was ugly. Pro-gun folks showed up in force and were loud and angry, ignoring the requests of the committee’s Senate chair to remain quiet and calm.

I testified in favor of the bill, although I don’t think either side liked my testimony. The intent of Rep. Mark Dion’s bill was to allow someone to ask a judge to take guns away from a family member who they fear is mentally ill and dangerous. But the bill was flawed and would need some serious discussion and amendments before proceeding.

I pointed that out, as did others, and talked about other concerns that ought to be addressed. It is difficult for the police to take those guns because they have no place to store them. Years ago I worked with my friend Ed Pineau, who was lobbying for SAM, for a bond issue that would give the police funding to build gun storage areas. But we were unsuccessful in winning legislative approval for that bond issue.

This is still a problem. State law says “A law enforcement officer who receives custody of a firearm… shall exercise reasonable care to avoid loss, damage or reduction in value of the firearm.”

I also talked about the difficulty police officers have in making sure a prohibited person has actually gotten rid of his guns. During my time at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, I was proud of SAM’s support for successful legislation that took guns away from those served with temporary protection orders. At that time only permanent orders gave the judge the option of taking away a person’s guns. We worked with then- attorney General Steve Rowe to get that done.

Not long after that I learned that it is very difficult for the police to get authority to enter that person’s house and make sure the guns are gone. And even if a judge orders someone to get rid of his guns, he can simply give them to a family member or friend and still have access to them. He can also go out the next day and purchase a gun in a private sale, for which background checks are not required.

I do think we should have a serious discussion about requiring background checks for private gun sales. Most of Maine’s gun dealers will now do that for you, for a small fee.

The Maine ballot measure calling for that went way too far, and was defeated, albeit by a fairly narrow margin. That fall, when it was on the ballot, I loaned a firearm to a friend which she kept through the deer season until she actually shot a deer.

That proposed law would have required a background check when I loaned her the gun and another background check when she gave my gun back to me. That’s ridiculous. So the private sale requirement should be more reasonable, with exceptions for family members and friends, particularly if the gun is only being loaned during hunting season.

Mental illness is also a complicated and difficult issue, particularly in evaluating the illness and determining who should have guns, and whether that ban should be temporary or permanent.

We desperately need a comprehensive approach to the problems of violence in our country. That would include mental illness, domestic violence, school security, and yes, guns. I fear that nothing will be done as we continue the ugly and disappointing debate over guns.

Boy have things changed. When I was in elementary school, many of us brought knives to school and played knife games at recess. Today a kid can’t even bring a plastic knife to school.

In high school I would sometimes bring my shotgun and leave it in the back of the room so I could hunt after school in a nearby orchard. I talked recently with a friend who said both he and his teacher brought their shotguns to school and they hunted together after school. Today it’s a felony to bring a gun to school.

I’m not sure, if they decide to allow teachers to bring guns to school, if a shotgun for bird hunting after school would qualify!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.