AUGUSTA – A bill aimed at reducing youth suicide by delaying their access to guns has been “gutted,” according to its Lewiston sponsor.

The bill would have created a 10-day waiting period for shotgun or rifle buyers under 22 years of age.

The amended bill, if passed, would require 16- and 17-year-olds to have parental permission before buying a long gun at a gun show or from a private seller. No permission is now required. Current law requires that a person must be 18 to buy a long gun at a store.

Rep. Margaret Craven, the Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the gun lobby was responsible for the changes.

The changed bill was approved 8-5 by the Criminal Justice Committee.

Craven said her original bill did nothing to threaten gun owners’ rights, but only focused on protecting youth. “Kids can’t buy cigarettes, they can’t buy alcohol, they can’t register a car until they’re 18, but they can buy a weapon without adult supervision,” Craven said.

Some youths, especially those contemplating suicide or hurting others, are not mature enough for that, she said.

Craven sponsored the bill after hearing from Cathy Crowley of Lewiston. In May of 2004, Crowley’s son, Laurier Belanger Jr., 18, killed himself with a shotgun he had just bought at a local department store.

Stunned and heartbroken, Crowley testified for Craven’s bill on Feb. 14, recalling how she found her son’s body in his apartment. If “my Larry” had to wait before he bought the gun, he’d still be alive, Crowley said. “Kids are so impulsive.”

Portland psychiatrist Jim Maier also spoke in favor, saying that the parts of the brain responsible for judgment, foresight and maturity are not developed until people reach their 20s, but parts responsible for emotion are “turbocharged” before then, which is why some young people do impulsive things.

“Obviously, Cathy Crowley was disappointed. I’m disappointed,” Craven said of her amended bill. “I’m very surprised. I didn’t think my gun bill would be controversial, because all it was was a waiting period. I didn’t realize how much influence the gun lobby has here in Augusta. The National Rifle Association really lobbies hard not to have any gun bill hit the floors at all.”

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine “was softer,” Craven said.

The weekend that her bill was listed on the Legislature’s Web page, Craven said, she started receiving nasty calls and e-mails from NRA members – some saying things like “You’ll be sorry you did this” – to the point Craven felt unsafe. She worried that her vehicle would be vandalized or its tires slashed. None of that happened, she said.

George Smith of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine predicted Thursday that the amended bill would fail. “Neither side likes it,” he said. The NRA, which worked aggressively to defeat the original bill, does not like the amended version, “and the people who brought it forward, Mrs. Crowley, aren’t happy with it. … It no longer has any real constituency.”

Unlike the NRA, SAM has no problem with parental consent, but opposed instituting a waiting period “because of one or two instances of suicide,” Smith said.


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