Maine has strict gun-control laws on the books.
The laws limit the number of rounds a gun can hold and essentially outlaw high-capacity magazines, which can significantly increase the killing capacity of weapons.
Unfortunately, the laws only apply if you’re hunting animals.
If you don’t intend to hunt, or your target is something at a gun range or on two legs — and a standing bear or a bird doesn’t count — the sky is the limit.
Efforts to place reasonable limits on the purchase and possession of firearms have been unsuccessful in Maine.
The Legislature, acting no doubt on the belief that it is following the will of the people, has rejected efforts to ban assault weapons, require background checks at gun shows and require waiting periods.
In recent years and under Republican leadership, Maine’s gun laws have gotten more lenient by allowing gun owners to take their weapons to work, into state parks and other places that were once off limits.
But there’s one place that the state has adopted some reasonable restrictions on firearms:
in the woods, during hunting season.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife provides an excellent summary on hunting rules and regulations, which includes a clear description of the limits on firearms.
Handguns, rifles and shotguns can’t be larger than 10-gauge, which essentially outlaws cannons and large bird guns, which can annihilate flocks of ducks and other birds with a single blast.
It’s also unlawful to hunt with or possess for hunting any auto-loading firearm that has a magazine capacity of more than five cartridges, plus one in the chamber, for a total of six.
The law doesn’t apply to handguns with barrel lengths of less than 8 inches or .22-caliber rimfire guns.
Additionally, Maine law limits the capacity of shotguns used to hunt migratory game birds to three, including the shell in the chamber.
I grew up hunting in a family of hunters. My father managed to take a deer 13 years in a row before a prolonged dry spell that never broke.
I’m a gun owner and have held a Maine hunting license until this year, when I didn’t renew it because I realized I don’t really hunt enough to make it worthwhile.
I have no interest in taking anyone’s legally owned gun away.
But I do believe that we should be able to craft practical and common sense limitations on the types of weapons available to the general public.
On Friday, Adam Lanza used a .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Lanza’s rampage took just 10 minutes from start to finish, and he used this military-style weapon with a high rate of fire and high-capacity magazines to mercilessly kill little kids.
The horrendous nature of the crime, the young age of the victims and the heroics of their teachers have prompted a national conversation about guns that is long overdue.
Opponents of new restrictions argue, and rightly so, that individuals with murderous intent can always find a way to carry out their crimes, with our without guns. They point to Timothy McVeigh who used fertilizer to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 as an example.
I once worked as an editor at a daily newspaper in Prince William County, Va. For some reason, this suburban community found itself a hotbed for unusual and terrible violence.
In 2000, a guy set up a pipe-bomb factory in his house. His target was never determined. He accidentally blew himself up before he could carry out whatever plot he was hatching.
It’s not nearly as easy to make a bomb as it is to buy a gun. And maybe the bad guys will blow themselves to smithereens before they get a chance to act.
And the common retort that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is true. Lanza pulled the trigger. He is the murderer.
But guns, and particularly certain types of guns, make death and killing so much easier. And in the case of high-capacity, rapid-fire rifles, they are ruthlessly efficient and effective at the job.
Writing in the online news magazine Slate, William Saletan estimates that Lanza managed to fire one shot every three seconds, taking advantage of numerous 30 round magazines.
If he had been forced to reload more often, to pause even for a few seconds, maybe fewer people would have died.
It’s possible to make progress on gun violence. The National Rifle Association and many staunch gun supporters say they are ready to have an honest dialogue about how to reduce gun violence.
We’ve already agreed to limitations on weapons for hunting. Surely, we can find common ground on ways to make them safer in the other parts of our communities too.