Thursday, May 19, 2005

MAINE VOICES: Jim Verdolini

Who are the real bullies in gun ban debate?

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

I take considerable exception, and not a small amount of umbrage, at the recent commentary about "Gun Bullies" that appeared in the paper May 11.

Columnist Bill Nemitz writes of recent threatening letters sent to legislators who have proposed a variety of gun bills this year. Despite a token denial, the essence of his piece was that nutty gun owners bully harmless legislators who are only trying to do the people's business.

OK, the writer has a point. Of the hundreds of thousands of gun owners in Maine, a few, a very few, go off the deep end and write very nasty notes to our legislators.

Nevertheless, I want to lay out the other side - to ask instead whether or not there are other "bullies," real ones with real power, who are also involved in this discussion.

We live in a state that has a very precise and clearly written constitutional right to keep and bear arms. As the Maine Constitution says in Section 16: "To keep and bear arms: Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned."

IT'S PERFECTLY CLEAR

No ambiguity. No way to misconstrue either the meaning or intent of the Maine Constitution. Yet, in every session, we find ourselves confronted by some legislators who simply act as though the constitution was unimportant. They not only want to "question" it, they want to legislate this right away, bit by bit.

Every year citizens - who are not being paid by taxpayers for their time - must write, speak, and take vacation to go to Augusta to fight these bills.

Time and again we see the same cast of characters use their elected office to push an agenda not wanted by the public or allowed by the constitution, offering a "solution" to a problem that simply does not exist and that has never, ever worked anywhere it has been tried.

Every session we hear exaggerations, made-up numbers, claims of benefits not backed by fact, appeals to emotion and flat- out lies used to reduce a fundamental right. This gets very old indeed. Gun owners are fed up.

Now, Nemitz advises that these legislators get hate mail. Does anyone reading this believe that legislators proposing other controversial ideas do not also get hate mail? Do advocates of gay rights or, from the other side, those who favor limits on abortion, not get mail they consider threatening? Of course they do.

Here is a hypothetical: Suppose some legislators were attacked in the press in their last election. Suppose they created a bill to limit the freedom of the press or proposed a per word tax on the media.

Imagine the firestorm over that little idea. The legislators would get mail calling them every name in the book, and the press would be leading the charge. There would be no commentary calling those writers "bullies."

But to shooters, gun rights are every bit as fundamental as the right to free speech is to reporters.

Who are really the bullies? Well, who controls government? Who can pass laws? Who has the entire power of government behind their legislative acts?

It certainly is not individual gun owners. It is not organized groups of gun owners. It is not even the very few nuts who write threats.

ATTACKS ON RIGHTS

No, it is the legislators themselves who propose laws that attack our basic rights who are the bullies. Then they complain, "Those nasty citizens write mean things about us."

Some legislators even say they fear gun-owning citizens.

Let me make this very clear: There are tens of thousands of citizens outside of Augusta who spend every day the Legislature is in session afraid of what those with the real power to affect all our lives might do.

Our homes, our wallets, our families - and our guns - are not safe while the Legislature is in session.

- Special to the Press Herald