AUGUSTA — A bill that would make ammunition clips that hold more than 10 cartridges illegal drew passionate views from gun-rights and gun-control advocates at the Legislature on Monday.
The first of more than 20 bills that are being heard before the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee included the legislation limiting ammunition clips and ones that require criminal background checks for private and gun-show firearm sales.
Many of the bills are in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December.
Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said the sponsor of the bill that places limits on ammunition clips said his was a "straightforward and common sense approach" to limiting the amount of destruction any one shooter could inflict.
Alfond told his colleagues the problem was a complex one but one that deserved their attention.
It's "a problem that has caused a nation to grieve — and brought sorrow to families and communities," Alfond said. "A problem that has given us pause about the tenuous nature of our own life and the lives of our loved ones. And a problem that at times has shaken our faith and called into question the very nature of humanity.”
But gun-rights advocates refuted that a limit on a clip's capacity would prevent what Lewiston resident and former Army soldier David Shnur called the "pure evil" of the Sandy Hook incident.
"Thank God it is not something that is very prevalent in our society," Shnur said.
He said his biggest concern with Alfond's bill was that it does not contemplate whether those limits would be legal under the state's Constitution.
Maine's Constitution — after a statewide vote amended it in 1987 — includes that the right to keep and bear arms shall "never" be infringed upon.
"On a state level, there is no other provision in any other state in the country that is as strongly worded as the Maine Constitution and the word of 'never' is not used very often," Shnur said.
Shnur also pointed out that New Hampshire and Vermont do not have any legislation pending that would limit the capacity of ammunition clips.
New York recently enacted a law limiting clip capacity to seven bullets, while Connecticut and Massachusetts have set it at 10, according to Cathie Whittenberg, a Portland resident and member of States United to Prevent Gun Violence.
Whittenberg testified in favor Alfond's bill and said Maine's hunting laws already limited the number of bullets in a clip for hunting to five.
"This is not about stopping all mass shootings," Wittenberg said. "Because no legislation will do that, but this is about limiting the number of victims and giving people in those situations a fighting chance."
In recent mass shootings, bystanders or law enforcement were able to intervene or victims were able to make a run for it only when the shooter stopped to reload a weapon, Portland police Chief Michael Sauschuck told the committee.
High-capacity magazines were a common theme in the most recent mass shootings, Sauschuck said. He said they were not the only common theme, but a critical one.
Lawmakers on the committee will continue hearing bills on changes to Maine's firearms laws for rest of the week before they begin voting on the bills later this month.