AUGUSTA (AP) – A compromise bill to remove guns from explosive situations in which domestic abuse is alleged was given a high chance of passage Monday as it was embraced by Gov. John Baldacci and legislative leaders from both parties.

The bill, which drew 100 cosponsors before it was introduced Monday, applies when temporary protection from abuse orders are issued. Judges would be authorized to bar defendants from possessing firearms or other dangerous weapons if there’s a heightened risk of abuse.

Gun owners could turn their weapons over to police within 24 hours, or to a third party, provided the owners have no access to the firearms, said Attorney General Steven Rowe, who led negotiations leading to the legislation. Seventeen other states have similar laws, he said.

“This bill is about getting guns away from emotional situations,” said House Speaker Patrick Colwell, D-Gardiner, one of the cosponsors. “It is not about intimidating the accused with a police presence.”

Repeated attempts to pass legislation having the same impact have failed in past sessions as compromise eluded lawmakers. But the latest bill has received the blessings of advocacy groups that opposed each other in the past.

They include the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which was concerned about gun-owners’ rights, and handgun control advocates, who demanded action to protect domestic violence victims when they seek protection from their abusers.

Domestic violence “occurs every day in every corner of this state,” Rowe said during a news conference. The financial cost, calculated at $1 billion a year, is overshadowed by the human toll in lost and broken lives, Rowe said.

From 1996 through 2001, half of the 141 homicides in Maine involved domestic violence, Rowe said.

Senate President Beverly Daggett, D-Augusta, called the high percentage “intolerable” and said the bill she is sponsoring should go a long way toward reducing it.

William Harwood, president of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, agreed.

“I believe that over time this bill, if enacted, will save lives,” said Harwood, adding that negotiations showed that “there is significant middle ground on this issue.”

Also supporting the bill is the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, Assistant Minority Leader Chandler Woodcock of Farmington, who said curbing domestic violence became the overriding issue for all of those involved in the debate.

“Maine sportsmen do not tolerate domestic violence in any form,” Woodcock said.

While Daggett’s bill addresses domestic violence and weapons, other bills to tighten up laws on handgun sales remain in committee. One of the bills would make it a felony to transfer handguns to anyone under 18 years old, and another would require criminal background checks prior to the sale of firearms at gun shows.

AP-ES-04-14-03 1532EDT



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