Question 3 will ask voters whether background checks should be mandatory for virtually all firearms “transfers,” except for transfers between certain family members. “Transfer” would mean not only to sell, but also to “furnish, give, lend, deliver or otherwise provide, with or without consideration.” Violation of the background check requirement would constitute a crime.

This might sound reasonable until you consider that it is a felony under existing law, punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment, for “prohibited persons,” including felons, domestic abusers, illegal aliens, those determined to be mentally incapacitated, and drug addicts to possess a firearm.

Likewise, existing law makes it a felony, punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment, to transfer a firearm to someone you know or have reasonable cause to believe is a prohibited person.

Furthermore, the background-check requirement under Question 3 is so broad and the exceptions under Question 3 are so narrow, that Question 3 would criminalize innocent conduct by otherwise law-abiding, competent adults. For example:

Example 1: Your neighbors are leaving for an out-of-state vacation. Neither you nor your neighbors are prohibited persons. They ask you to lock their guns in your safe until they return. You oblige. No background check is performed. This conduct is legal under current law. Question 3 would make it a crime.

Example 2: You legally own a firearm. The firearm is subject to a safety recall. The manufacturer announces that you may return it to its facility for repair. You go to a UPS office with the unloaded firearm, declare it, and have UPS ship it to the manufacturer. No background check is performed. This conduct is legal under current law. Question 3 would make it a crime.

Example 3: You borrow a friend’s shotgun to shoot trap. Neither you nor your friend is prohibited from possessing firearms. You pick up the shotgun at your friend’s house, confirm that it is unloaded, and transport it to the trap range. Immediately after you are done shooting, you unload the shotgun and return it to your friend’s house. No background check is performed. This conduct is legal under current law. Question 3 would make it a crime because Question 3’s “shooting range exception” makes no allowance for transporting a borrowed firearm to or from a shooting range.

Example 4: You have a deer hunting license. You borrow a rifle from a friend. Neither you nor your friend is prohibited from possessing firearms. No background check is performed. On Saturday, you use the rifle to go hunting. You obey all hunting laws. On Sunday, you return the rifle to your friend. This conduct is legal under current law. However, Maine law prohibits hunting on Sunday. Question 3’s “hunting exception” applies “exclusively” while hunting and does not permit possession of a borrowed firearm outside of lawful hunting hours. Therefore, because you possessed the firearm for part of the day on Sunday, this conduct would constitute a crime under Question 3.

Yet another disturbing aspect of Question 3 is that it would deter reporting of stolen firearms. For instance, an individual borrows a firearm from a friend. They decide to ignore the background check requirement. The firearm is stolen while in the borrower’s possession. The borrower and lender would then face the dilemma of allowing the theft to go unreported or reporting the theft and being prosecuted for failure to perform a background check.

As noted above, it already is a felony for a prohibited person to possess a firearm. Likewise, it already is a felony to transfer a firearm to someone you know or have reasonable cause to believe is a prohibited person. Despite this, Question 3 would criminalize even brief loans of firearms between law-abiding adults.

Maine voters should reject Question 3.

Charles Hedrick practices law in Lewiston and serves as vice president of the Androscoggin County Fish and Game Association. He is a certified range safety officer and pistol instructor. He lives in New Gloucester.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: