January 16, 2013

Area reactions mixed to Obama's gun-violence proposals

STAFF REPORT

John Hallett of Fayette, a National Rifle Association-certified training instructor, said Wednesday that proposing a ban or restriction on one type of gun is similar to banning all red cars because a lot of people die in car accidents every year.

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Timothy Marks

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Randall Liberty

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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Criminals still will be able to get guns and high capacity magazines, he said.

"It simply makes all of us more vulnerable," he said. "We're just honest people who enjoy a hobby."

Even so, Hallett said he doesn't see a problem with expanding the background-check system for gun purchases. But a renewed ban on military-style assault weapons isn't going to help, he said.

"There are too many people where something is twisted in their system and they don't connect the dots," he said. "Guns aren't evil; it's people who are evil."

Hallett's comments were among several reactions -- many of them mixed -- offered by people in the region Wednesday after President Barack Obama's unveiling of sweeping proposals to curb gun violence. The proposals, which include background checks on all gun sales, reinstating a ban on military-style weapons and limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, came a month after the deadly elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said he looks forward to working with the Legislature to address gun control while protecting Second Amendment rights.

"I am in favor of enhancing treatment of those people that are suffering from mental illness," Liberty said. "Additionally, I am in favor of universal background checks. We must do a better job of sharing information among agencies."

The Maine Sheriff's Association is planning a breakfast with state lawmakers this morning during which instructors will lead an informational session aimed at providing an overview of firearms, including the difference between military-style rifles and hunting rifles, a description of commonly used handguns and the difference between concealed-weapons laws and open-carry laws.

Liberty said such sessions will help legislators make informed decisions.

"Almost without exception, most citizens of the state of Maine and of the United States are responsible, well-intended gun owners," Liberty said. "We must be cautious not to overreact."

Universal background checks also have the support of Rep. Tim Marks, D-Pittston, a retired state trooper who also would like to see Maine set up a database with the names of anyone who has been committed involuntarily to a mental institution so that person would not be allowed to buy guns.

"Right now, if somebody applies for a gun permit in Maine, there's no mental health check," he said.

As a member of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, Marks said he expects to see 50 or more gun control bills this session. However, he does not support renewing the ban on military-style assault weapons and thinks the limit on rounds in a clip would be ineffective.

"As a trooper, I never encountered an assault weapon," he said.

Unintended consequences?

Brad Varney, 71, of Richmond, owner of Varney's Clay Sports in Richmond, a shooting instructor for more than 45 years, said he doesn't think extending background checks on firearms to all gun sales would help.

"Criminals are still going to get guns through illegal means," Varney said. "If that is not so, then we wouldn't have a drug problem, because drugs are illegal."

Varney said the previous, 10-year ban on military-style weapons had no effect on gun violence, and he doubts reinstituting it would, either.

"An assault weapon is nothing but a semi-automatic rifle," Varney said. "Deer hunters, coyotes hunters ... use them all over the world."

Rachel Healy, director of communications and public education at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said that although the ACLU typically doesn't weigh in on gun control discussions, other aspects of the proposals cause concern. She said the ACLU is worried that the president's executive order to help communities hire more police officers trained to work in schools could have unintended consequences.

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