Maine lags in observing gun safety laws

Sadly, what we could have done to prevent a tragedy only becomes apparent after a tragedy has occurred.

That’s exactly what happened in 2007 when Seung Hui Cho used several newly purchased guns to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech.

He had been declared mentally ill by a judge, which should have barred him from gun possession under federal law. However, his name never was submitted to a national database of people forbidden from owning guns.

That database, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, has been operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation since 1998.

“The NICS is all about saving lives and protecting people from harm by not letting guns and explosives fall into the wrong hands,” according to the FBI.

More than 100 million background checks have been done during the past decade, resulting in about 700,000 denials, according to the FBI.

After the Virginia Tech shootings, Congress unanimously passed the NICS Improvement Act in 2008 and created a system of incentives for states to participate. Much of the money allocated for the program, however, has not been distributed to states to improve their systems.

Now, three years later, there are wide disparities in participation among states.

Since the tragedy at Virginia Tech, Virginia has 139,000 names on the list of people with a mental illness making them ineligible to buy or possess guns.

California has 256,106 names on the list; New York has 154,962 and Texas 60,680.

Maine has 25 names on the NICS list, meaning there are only a couple dozen people in the state deemed mentally ill and unfit to buy or possess guns.

If we were participating at the same rate as Texas, we would have 3,133 names on the list. If we were participating with the same zeal as Virginia, we would have 22,607 people listed.

We have no idea what the right number for Maine would be, but we clearly have more than 25 people with serious mental illnesses in this state who should not buy or possess guns.

Dale Armstrong, resident agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ Portland office, recently told the Sun Journal about one Maine man who should have been on the list.

Raymond Hunter Geisel of Bangor was arrested in 2008 in Miami with an arsenal of weapons after threatening to assault George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

He had been involuntarily committed in Maine, but his name was not placed on the NICS list.

“There have been quite a few cases of people adjudicated mentally ill who have gotten their hands on guns,” Armstrong said.

To be clear, neither being mentally ill nor seeking mental health help makes a person ineligible to own a gun.

The only people on the NICS list are those a judge has decided are a danger to themselves or others.

Maine State Police Maj. Raymond Bessette told the Sun Journal that Maine lawmakers have used “caution” in balancing public safety with individual rights.

Having 25 names on the list doesn’t reflect caution; it reflects a state sticking its head in the sand.

This failure means we have a preventable tragedy waiting to happen.

Gun rights activists often say we don’t need more gun control laws, we just need to enforce the laws on the books.

Our failure to enforce this law is exactly what they are talking about.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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 's picture

And How would you suggest we proceed, SJ?

Do you suggest that the State go through individual medical/mental health records to see who might be considered a "danger to themselves and others" so we can add more names to the NICS system? What about those people who may have had some issues, but have overcome them with counselling and treatment? What about the laws that protect the privacy of individuals? Or the laws that protect doctor/patient confidentiality? Are you willing to throw all that out in the name of adding more names to a government list somewhere?

The State Police Major is right. We must maintain that delicate ballance between public safety and individual rights. It's hard, but it is necessary in any truly free society.

It is also important to understand that those with evil intentions are not swayed by societies laws. Murder, assualt, burglary, rape, robbery and a host of other laws on the books are broken every day, and without firearms I might add.

We would do well to heed Mr. Franklin's warning: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

John Chick
Monmouth, ME

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." --Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816. ME 14:384

Steve  Dosh's picture

Maine lags in observing gun safety laws

Maine does lag ? Good editorial . Hindsight is usually 20 / 20 . ? 186,000,000 guns . ? 300,000,000 people . When's enough , enough ? The British are not coming anymore . Nor are the Canadians or the Mexcians . We all pity the poor congresswoman in from AZ and her astronaut husband . We really do . Some estimates suggest there are more guns than people in the USA , up to 420 million guns Bambi wil always lose out badly to a Avtomat Kalishnikova 1947 ( AK - 47 ) . We support the right to arm bears ? Jim Brady ( Ronald Reagan's press sec'y - remember him ? ) would probably agree . Aloha from Pahoa , Dr. Dosh and Ohana :)

 's picture

Technically speaking

anybody who has been convicted of DUI, OAS, getting into a fight with a spouse or domestic partner, self committed themselves for mental health reasons, been committed against their will due to state regulations, and any of a number of other possible sins, can be judged incompetent. They broke the law and are therefore mentally incompetent since ignorance of the law doesn't excuse breaking it in Maine.
While I am sure that the number of people in Maine who shouldn't own guns is probably in excess of 25 people, determining who those people are is another problem altogether. Constitutionally, every person has the right to vote, regardless of mental capacity. If a candidate went to every home where legally registered MR adults lived and was nice to them, who would they remember and vote for??? The person who came to meet them. Do you deny them the right to vote???
The same applies to the right to own guns. It is constitutionally guaranteed. Do you deny them that right because they are sightly skewed mentally???
My point is that, once given proper instruction, which Maine demands, unless a person has proven him/her self to have homicidal or suicidal tendencies there really is no cause to refuse them the opportunity to buy a firearm. That is where Maine has a sticking point with the reporting requirement. How do we, without a doubt, prove that someone is unworthy of possessing a firearm. It's a legal hellhole that they don't want to crawl into.
The solution is to require everyone to own a gun, know how to use it, and to carry it with them at all times. It would be a safer world.

RONALD RIML's picture

Technically speaking....

Don't give up your day job to practice law.

PAUL MATTSON's picture


Well said LSJ~

Paul J. Mattson
NRA Certified Instructor / RSO
Maine CWP Training
101 Main St.
Harrison, ME 04040

(207) 583-4723
CELL 232-7063


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