AUGUSTA — Prompted by the Connecticut school massacre, a Maine group announced its formation Wednesday, saying it supports legislation to prevent gun-related violence and it will promote gun safety in the state.
Former U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby and former Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert, who also was the city’s police chief and later a U.S. marshal, are co-chairing the Coalition for a Safer Maine.
Gilbert called for tolerance and willingness to listen to all sides in considering any new laws.
“The issue of violence is not just about guns, it’s about education. It’s about recognizing mental illness. It’s about providing law enforcement with resources,” he said.
The coalition supports a three-pronged bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland and a former Cumberland County sheriff.
The bill is aimed at making sure that people declared by a court as mentally ill do not have access to firearms.
Under present law, a person who is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital by a judge is barred from having guns. Dion’s bill would expand that prohibition. As soon as a mental health professional determines the person is likely to do serious harm and that person is admitted to a psychiatric hospital for further evaluation, the ban on possessing a gun would take effect.
The bill also calls for promotion of gun-safety education, which would look at issues such as gun storage, Dion said.
The legislation also seeks to extend background checks on gun buyers to private sellers, who account for 40 percent of the gun sales in Maine, according to the coalition. Currently, only commercial gun sellers, who account for 60 percent of the sales, are required to perform background checks in Maine. The proposed law would allow exemptions for casual firearms sales between family members.
In addition, the coalition supports separate legislation to limit the size of magazines that can be sold in Maine to seven rounds.
Robert McAfee, former president of the American Medical Association; hunter and gun owner Bruce Holmes of Manchester; and South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins spoke in support of the coalition effort.
Holmes, who has been a member of the National Rifle Association and advocate of Second Amendment gun rights, said he supports many NRA positions, but said mass shootings around the country have led him to take a closer look at the issues.
In the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 first-graders and six educators after killing his mother at home. He killed himself as police were arriving at the school.
“These tragedies made me stop and think about my core beliefs,” Holmes said.
McAfee, who as a doctor has dealt with the consequences of gun wounds, urged action to prevent what he sees as the country’s slide toward violence. “The slope is already very tilted,” he warned.
Some lawmakers, including House Republican leader Ken Fredette of Newport, urge careful review of gun-control proposals.
“Any time you have a bill that seeks to limit a constitutional right, you have to be very judicious,” Fredette said. “We need to look at having a balance here.”
The Maine Gun Owners Association Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.