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A referendum on gun rights?

Rep. Lance Harvell, D-Farmington, tells me that ex-senator Ethan Strimling, D-Portland, 2002-2008, has agreed to participate in a gun-control debate at UMF which Lance hopes to organize. This will be an opportunity for Strimling to explain his proposal for a state-wide referendum on gun control he made on Dec. 17.
This is an issue which is dear to the man's heart. As he explained in his blog manifesto, "I worked on countless bills to protect the public through common-sense gun regulation. In virtually every case, the will and safety of the public was cast aside and the Legislature killed the bill." He does not mention that the legislature who defeated the public's will and endangered its safety was controlled by his party. Nor does he have hope for the legislation he desires from the current legislature, now again held by Democratic majorities.
His idea is that a referendum will force the hand of the legislature, by pitting the will of the people against the influence of the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine which he believes controls and intimidates the Maine House and Senate. He believes he has discovered the will of the people in "numerous polls." These tell him that most Mainers will support such "common-sense gun regulations" as background checks for the sale of all guns at gun shows, a ban on "assault weapons," a short waiting period before someone under the age of 21 could purchase a shotgun, and requiring dealers to provide trigger locks with the sale of all handguns.
The ex-senator is convinced that even if this referendum falls short of majority support, it would get enough votes to encourage our legislators to man-up and face down the NRA and SAM. This may be so, but there he will have to address some problems to clarify his referendum idea.
The first problem is Section 16 of the Maine Constitution's Article I, "Declaration of Rights" which reads "Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned." He will have to explain how the regulations he favors can be reconciled with this right. Constitutional law is superior to legislative laws enactmented or even common sense, no matter how common. If he is proposing a referendum to amend the Constitution he needs to spell this out. If he is proposing language that will allow the legislature to get around Art. I, Section 16 he needs to set it before us.
Another problem is the difference between majority opinion and consensus. The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica had this to say about the 1884 law which "forever prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic fluids except for medicinal and mechanical purposes" in our state: ... "the law labours under the disadvantage of all laws not vigorously sustained by general public sentiment and is grossly violated. For the most part it is executed to the degree demanded by local sentiment..." That is, Farmington may have been dry, but thirsty sailors in Portland were never at a loss for drink.
The division of opinions on gun rights in Maine is reflected in the fact that the NRA's "A" rating for Rep. Michaud in the second congressional district and its "F" for Rep. Pingree in the first. Senate majority leader Libby Mitchell, with her aspirations for state-wide office, had a "B." We may infer that passage of Strimling's referendum must rely heavily on votes in the first district. Does he think that the folks in Wytopitlock hear of the referendum passing they will react by saying "Portland has spoken, we must obey?"
That brings us to the question of how Ethan Strimling visualizes enforcement of the regulations he desires. The number of guns in private hands is variously estimated at 250,000,000 to 300,000,000. Maine has more than its share. Never mind the "gun show loophole" — how many guns are bought and sold on private premises? Put me under of a 400-watt lamp and threaten me with a couple of sturdy state policemen with rubber truncheons and I suppose I could identify a dozen or more people known to me personally who have obtained firearms in this way. Good luck stopping that.
(Professor John Frary of Farmington is a former congressional candidate and retired history professor, a board member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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