By Michael Shepherd
State House Bureau
AUGUSTA — The many gun-related bills pending in the Legislature will likely be combined into one or two comprehensive measures by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which struggled to complete work Monday on several of the bills.
The panel voted 6-6 on a bill from Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, to limit gun magazines to 10 rounds. It tabled decisions on two other bills, also sponsored by Democrats, that would expand background checks for private gun sales.
The committee is considering more than 20 bills dealing with restricting or loosening gun laws, and Democratic leaders will likely try to turn many of them into a more sweeping proposal.
"Certainly, 20 is a little aggressive," said Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, the committee's Senate chairman. "I think it will come down to maybe a committee bill, maybe two committee bills."
Republicans on the committee opposed Alfond's bill on magazine limits, while one Democrat, Rep. Timothy Marks of Pittston, voted with them.
Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, was absent from the State House during the committee's work session, so it wasn't immediately clear what the final vote on Alfond's bill will be. Dutremble couldn't be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
Under legislative rules, he has two business days to cast his vote. If he supports the bill, it will go to the Legislature with an "ought to pass" recommendation, which would improve its chances for passage.
Tabled were bills from Gerzofsky and Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland -- the committee's House chairman -- that would force buyers at gun shows and in private sales, respectively, to submit to background checks.
While Gerzofsky's bill is narrowly tailored to affect gun show sales, Dion's bill is more far-reaching and so may provide the framework for a comprehensive bill.
Dion's bill, as written, would mandate permitting before gun purchases, raise the minimum age for concealed-handgun permit holders from 18 to 21, and bar anyone admitted involuntarily to a psychiatric hospital on an emergency basis from having firearms.
Dion and Gerzofsky tried but failed to table Alfond's bill on magazine sizes. Gerzofsky argued that it made no sense to consider a single bill with so many others pending.
"We should be looking at this as a jigsaw puzzle that makes a picture," he said. "Taking the pieces off the table now gets you nothing but a missing hole."
But Republicans on the committee said Alfond's bill has a narrow focus, and committee members likely know where they stand on it.
"I don't think that any of us are fundamentally going to change our positions. I'll speak for myself: I know I'm not going to," said Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta. "Unless we're going to use it for a bargaining chip, I think really the only real reason I can rationalize ... is the bill sponsor is the president of the Senate."
After the vote, Gerzofsky said that argument was "offensive."
"Nobody came to the table with negotiating chips. If that was the case, there would be a lot more bills in," he said. "I haven't heard talk of that."
The three bills are opposed by the National Rifle Association and the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.
In written testimony on Alfond's bill, John Howenwarter, the NRA's Maine state liaison, said, "A magazine ban will not affect criminals, it will undermine the ability of an individual to effectively defend themselves."
According to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, a pro-gun control group, six states -- California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island -- require background checks before all firearm sales at gun shows. Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania require checks before handgun sales at gun shows.
In rankings in 2011 from the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, another gun control group, all of those states were among the 15 states with the most restrictive gun laws. Taken together, those states' firearm deaths per 100,000 residents were 20 percent below the national average in 2009, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:
On Twitter: @mikeshepherdmeTweet
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