Who's ready for a Blue-on-Blue fight over gun control?

Who's ready for a Blue-on-Blue fight over gun control?
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

According to public polling, about 20% of self-identified Democrats say gun control laws should either be kept where they are or made less restrictive; a small but significant portion of the party that unfortunately isn’t really represented in the party at large. Just five Democrats voted against the ban on so-called assault weapons that passed the House on a 217-213 vote earlier this year, and while any number of Democrats claim to be Second Amendment supporters, they generally do so just before they describe what kind of restrictions on that right they want to put in place.

One exception is Maine Gov. Janet Mills. The Democrat supported a magazine ban and “red flag” law when she was running for the Democratic primary in 2018, but has notably cooled on gun control since then; rejecting a call to get behind “universal background checks” by noting that voters had done the same during a referendum in 2016, and modifying a “red flag” proposal after input from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. In this year’s race, she informed the Second Amendment group that she opposes magazine bans and a “red flag” law, and Mills has made no move to try to repeal the Constitutional Carry law that took effect in 2015.

Despite Mills’ positions, several Democrats in the state legislature say they’re going to push for both a magazine ban and universal background checks in the coming session.

The series of hoax mass-shooting threats against Maine schools this month along with mass shootings in Colorado on Saturday and at a Virginia Walmart on Tuesday make a clear case for “common-sense” gun legislation, said Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, who co-chairs the group and outlined top targets for the 2023 legislative session.

“I don’t know why we’re not treating this like we would any major public health emergency,” said Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, who said she was working on a bill of her own.

The state has taken consensus steps to address violence and school concerns, argued David Trahan, the executive director of the gun-rights sportsman’s alliance. His group supported the funding of a new school safety program and a bill passed this year providing grants and education around safe-storage devices. A new fight over restrictions will simply rile up activists on both sides and is unlikely to go anywhere absent Mills’ support, he said.

“I’ve found that the governor has kept her word with me and I believe 100 percent that she will keep her word,” Trahan said.

Supporting gun control is a “politically risky” stance here, said Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland. But he said that should not prevent action. He supports both expanding background checks and further regulating magazines.

“Lawmakers, we have a duty to do what’s right even when it’s not necessarily a politically popular thing,” Lookner said.

I’m glad Lookner recognizes the political unpopularity of his proposals, but I can’t help but notice he doesn’t offer any evidence towards his assertion that either a ban on magazines or a universal background check law is the right thing to do. I don’t think either are constitutional, but I also don’t think they’d have any significant impact on public safety in Maine, which has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the nation. Maine also has one of the higher gun-related suicide rates, but a magazine ban isn’t going to have any impact on those deaths.

What about suicides? When the RAND Corporation (no foe of gun control) took a look at universal background checks and suicide rates, researchers found evidence of any impact inconclusive.

We identified five quasi-experimental studies that met our inclusion criteria and examined the impact of background check policies on suicide outcomes.[1] The earliest of these (Ludwig and Cook, 2000) studied the impact of the 1994 Brady Act and found uncertain effects of the policy on total suicides, firearm suicides, and the proportion of adult suicides caused by a firearm. When restricted to suicides among those aged 55 or older, however, there was a statistically significant decrease in firearm suicides of around 6 percent and in the proportion of suicides involving a firearm of 2.2 percent. However, there was an offsetting increase in suicides by other means and thus only suggestive evidence of a statistically significant decrease in total suicides in this age group.

The goal here should be to reduce the number of suicides, not to change the method used. Universal background checks don’t seem to have any appreciable impact in that regard, but would subject the majority of rural Mainers to penalties and potentially jail time if they didn’t spend hours (and dollars) driving to the nearest gun store in order to perform a NICS check on their friend or neighbor.

Remember, voters in Maine rejected universal background checks in a statewide referendum just six years ago; a referendum, by the way, where the gun control lobby outspent their opponents 5-to-1. This isn’t just a losing political issue, it’s one of those measures that absolutely pisses off a lot of rural voters because they’re the ones to bear the brunt of this idiocy. Mills and other rural Democrats in the state legislature are savvy enough to know not to kick this particular hornets nest, and some of them may very well have even truly believe that there are better ways to address violent crime and suicide without intruding on a fundamental civil right.

Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature as well as occupying the governor’s office, but Mills isn’t the only Democrat in the state willing to oppose anti-2A measures in the past. Less than half of the Democratic state senators voted in favor of a background check bill just last year, and the objections to this year’s push won’t just be coming from the Republican minority. Maine’s legislature will be the arena for a rare Blue-on-Blue political battle over the right to keep and bear arms in the upcoming session, and grassroots Second Amendment supporters from across the political spectrum are thankfully already gearing up to call, email, write, and testify in opposition to the unconstitutional infringements on tap from the anti-gun wing of the state’s Democratic Party.