Bill would allow lawsuits if gun prohibition misfires

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AUGUSTA — Convinced that people would be safer if more folks were packing heat most everywhere they go, some lawmakers are trying to make it tough for businesses to prohibit guns on their premises.

A new proposal would mandate that property owners provide “for the safety and defense” of anyone they prohibit from carrying firearms or find themselves on the hook for any harm suffered by anyone disarmed.

Under the terms of the bill, anyone prohibited from possessing a firearm would have two years to sue if they suffer injury, damage or death from “artificial and natural hazards that are able to be defended against,” including other people or animals.

The measure, which hasn’t yet been referred to committee or discussed, would create a strong legal incentive for property owners to allow people to carry guns. Maine allows most adults to carry firearms openly or to have them concealed without a permit.

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But it also lets business owners and others ban guns in their establishments and homes.

Under the proposal sponsored by Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox, and co-sponsored by, among others, Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, anybody who doesn’t allow firearms could assume “absolute custodial responsibility” for anybody disarmed on their property.

Brakey said Monday the proposal would establish that even though private businesses have a right “to declare their property a gun-free zone, they would also have legal liability if any person came to harm as a result of that decision.”

He said the Crime Prevention Research Center has shown that in recent years nearly all “mass shootings in America have taken places in gun free zones where law-abiding citizens are disarmed.”

Everytown for Gun Safety, though, said only a fraction of mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones. “The vast majority of incidents,” it found, “took place entirely in private homes,” the result of domestic violence.

The proposal before the Legislature would also cover anyone who “is required to traverse” someone’s land “in order to travel to and from” someplace where that individual’s firearm is stored.

The measure would not apply to locations where the law specifically bars guns, only those where a property owner has chosen to prohibit them.

One provision in the bill would require that any notices or signs informing people that firearms are not allowed on the premises must also let people know “that any individual prohibited from possessing a firearm on the property who otherwise would carry a firearm on the property is under the custodial responsibility of the person prohibiting the possession of firearms.”

Similar bills are being debated in Missouri, Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

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