Maine Governor Tries to Thread the Needle on Gun Bills

Gov. Janet Mills may not have made either side of the gun debate happy with her calls for changes to the state’s background checks and private gun sales; not nearly enough for anti-gunners who are pushing for bans on so-called assault weapons, waiting periods, and more, and too much for many Second Amendment advocates who see her proposals as a big step in the wrong direction.


Interestingly, though, neither side has gone after the governor over the proposed changes she outlined in her State of the State address on Tuesday night. Gun control groups like Moms Demand Action called them “important first steps“, while Sportsmans Alliance of Maine executive director David Trahan says the group is reserving judgment until they can take a look at the actual legislation. Gun Owners of Maine, meanwhile, has more forcefully objected to what Mills outlined in her speech, but criticized the policies and not the governor herself.

On today’s Bearing Arms Cam & Co, Trahan pointed to the political reality in Maine as one reason why neither side has directly attacked the governor in the wake of her address to lawmakers; with a near supermajority for Democrats in both chambers of the legislature, Mills holds a lot of power in her hands when it comes to the fate of gun control legislation this session; not just her own bills, but the more blatant attacks on our Second Amendment rights that are being pushed by anti-gunners.

Trahan called Mills the “only finger in the dike” that’s stopping gun owners from drowning in a flood of new restrictions aimed directly at the right to keep and bear arms, and described her proposals as an attempt to “thread the needle” in a state that has long been a bastion of support for the Second Amendment but has been growing bluer with every recent election cycle.


I pointed out some of my issues with the governor’s proposals in an earlier post, but I will at least give her some credit for not simply parroting the talking points of the gun control lobby. Mills is term-limited, and given that she’s 76 years old, she’s probably not trying to hedge her bets for any future campaigns for higher office. If she wanted to unleash her inner Shannon Watts, nothing is stopping her. In fact, it’s worth noting that she hasn’t called for a ban on semi-automatic firearms or endorsed the “GOSAFE Act” targeting gas-operated semi-automatic long guns sponsored by senators Angus King of Maine and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico; unlike Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who’s pushing for lawmakers in Santa Fe to enact a state-level version of the ban during the 30-day session currently underway.

Gun owners can and will disagree with many of the governor’s suggestions, but she doesn’t seem to be kowtowing to the gun control lobby, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of Democratic governors these days. If Gavin Newsom or Kathy Hochul had laid out the same policy proposals that Mills did in her State of the State address, groups like Everytown and Giffords would be demanding to know why they caved to the gun lobby, instead of offering the cautious words of praise they gave her on Tuesday evening.


Trahan made it clear that SAM wouldn’t support any “red flag” law or “universal background check” measure while reserving final judgment on the governor’s proposals until the text of the legislation has been formally introduced. Gun Owners of Maine, meanwhile, has declared most of the governor’s proposals unacceptable, though without criticizing the governor directly.

Gun Owners of Maine said it has no issues with Mills’ proposal to establish an injury and violence prevention program at the Maine CDC or to establish a statewide network of crisis receiving centers, but the organization said Maine’s yellow flag law has no gaps.

“It needs to be enforced in order to work, when it is utilized it is effective. Anything more stringent is an abuse of power and devoid of due process,” President Laura Whitcomb said in a statement on behalf of the Gun Owners of Maine’s board of directors.

Whitcomb said Gun Owners of Maine does not support Mills’ proposal to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people through stricter regulation of private gun sales – whether the sale is advertised or transferred privately. Gun Owners of Maine said the governor’s proposal amounts to a universal background check.

“As presented, the suggestions are unenforceable, do nothing to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, and infringe on the rights of the law-abiding. Criminals do not submit to background checks. It is a stepping-stone to a gun registry and we will oppose it vehemently,” Gun Owners said in a statement.


I agree with Whitcomb’s description of the background check expansion, but even if it doesn’t lead to a gun registry it still poses major problems for gun owners, simply from a logistical standpoint. As Trahan pointed out, Maine is the second-most rural state in the country, and if Mills’ proposal is enacted into law many of those gun owners would have to travel long distances just to put a buyer through a background check before they can complete the transfer. Proactive enforcement of the law would be impossible as well, and wouldn’t prevent criminals from acquiring guns on the illicit market.

Given the power that Mills holds in her hands to determine the immediate future of gun control laws in the state, activists on both sides of the debate have a vested interest at the moment in keeping an open line of communication with her office. Critiquing her proposals is one thing, but I doubt either side is going to launch any personal attacks on the governor while they have a chance to influence her decision on the laundry list of infringements that could soon be heading her way.

There’s a good chance that one or more of the anti-2A proposals backed by groups like Everytown for Gun Safety will land on her desk, but so far Mills hasn’t indicated whether she’d sign or veto any bills that go beyond her own proposals. Anti-gun activists and Second Amendment supporters will both be trying to persuade her to align with them if and when a waiting period bill, gun ban legislation, or “red flag” law is approved by the legislature, and as much as the governor might be trying to thread the needle now, it might be impossible to do so when this year’s session is gaveled to a close.



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