AUGUSTA — People convicted of violent crimes or those that involved a gun are generally barred from possessing a firearm ever again.

But there’s an exception.

Partly because the federal government doesn’t recognize as a firearm a muzzle-loading gun — the type of weapon soldiers used during the Revolutionary War. Maine allows those generally prohibited from having guns to ask the commissioner of public safety for permission to use a black-powder weapon.

That may change, however.

A bill pushed by state  Rep. Skip Herrick, R-Paris, would prevent those with “dangerous backgrounds” from having black-powder guns. It recently won the backing of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and may well make it through the Legislature this session.

Herrick told colleagues that “a black-powder weapon for all intents and purposes is a firearm, just as capable as any of the other prohibited firearms. I consider this to be a dangerous issue to public safety.”

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For Troy Ripley of Paris, there’s no doubt about it.

On Monday, it will be 10 years to the day that one of his neighbors was convicted of manslaughter for mistakenly shooting to death Ripley’s 18-year-old daughter Megan in the mistaken belief she was a deer.

A remorseful Timothy Bean, who pleaded guilty, fired one round at her with a .50-caliber single-shot muzzle-loading gun.

“It was a horrible lapse of judgment,” Ripley said, a moment whose consequences linger in the lives of everyone who knew either family.

After Ripley’s family made clear they weren’t looking for a harsh penalty, a judge sentenced Bean to two years in prison with all but 30 days suspended and two years of probation. He actually served 16 days with time off for good behavior, Ripley said.

At the same time, the judge permanently suspended Bean’s hunting license, required him to speak on hunting dangers to raise public awareness and to pay $5,000 in victims’ compensation fees within the first 20 months of probation.

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Ripley said he got involved in the muzzle-loading gun issue after a game warden mentioned that Bean could actually apply for the right to possess the same kind of gun he used when he shot Megan Ripley.

It’s the only kind of firearm he can have under state and federal laws that bar felons who used a gun in their crimes from gaining access to firearms again.

That’s because gun lobbyists in the nation’s capital managed to get the old-fashioned, black-powder guns off the list of officially recognized firearms. It’s not clear why it mattered, but for Ripley the law makes no sense.

They’re obviously guns, he said, and modern versions can fire particularly deadly rounds.

After talking with Herrick, the lawmaker agreed to put in a bill that would end the exception for black powder guns in Maine, ensuring that Bean could never have one if the measure passes.

Ripley said he testified before the committee to tell them “the man that killed my daughter with a muzzle-loader is eligible to get a permit to own a muzzle-loader” again.

That sentence seemed to clear the way for the panel’s unanimous support for Herrick’s bill, Ripley said.

“There was zero objection,” he said. “They don’t want to leave it as a loophole out there.”

The way the law reads now, Ripley said, isn’t much different from opening the door for a sex offender to open a day care center.


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