Monday, June 30, 2003

MAINE VOICES: WILLIAM S. HARWOOD (Special To The Press Herald)

More Talk Needed On Gun Laws

Copyright © 2003 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: William S. Harwood is a Portland attorney and a member of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.

M.D. Harmon's column regarding firearms (June 16 Press Herald) was disappointing in both its tone and substance.

Harmon suggests that those trying to prevent gun violence come "from the side of the political spectrum that likes to create straw issues for political gain." Such ill-conceived and inflammatory comments have no place in a thoughtful debate over how best to protect innocent citizens from gun violence while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

Harmon's column reads like a press release for the recently formed group, the Maine Gun Owners Association. On behalf of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, I welcome Jeff Weinstein and his new group to the ongoing debate over the most appropriate way to regulate firearms in Maine.

Despite Harmon's rhetoric, I am confident we can have a thoughtful discussion of the issues of preventing gun violence. Perhaps we can even agree on a reasonable balance between the rights of gun owners and the rights of citizens to be free from gun violence.

In his column, Harmon suggests the Maine Gun Owners Association is needed to protect the constitutional rights of gun owners, included in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the corresponding provisions of the Maine Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The debate about the need for more effective regulation of firearms has nothing to do with constitutional rights. For almost 100 years, the state and federal governments have regulated the ownership and use of firearms by citizens. Not once during that time has a state or federal court ever struck down a firearm regulation as unconstitutional.

As any knowledgeable lawyer knows, the few times constitutional challenges have been made, the courts have always ruled that the Constitution does not prevent the legislative branch of government from enacting reasonable restrictions on gun ownership and use.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger once characterized the National Rifle Association's interpretation of the Second Amendment as "one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."

It is indeed unfortunate that Harmon has chosen to promote the NRA fraud by leaving the impression that the public's Second Amendment rights are in jeopardy in the legislative process.

It is also unfortunate that Harmon suggests that since Sept. 11, 2001, the country is in need of more firearms for self-defense. The notion that a few citizens with hunting rifles could stop Al Qaeda and international terrorism borders on ridiculous.

What is becoming clearer, especially since the Columbine high school shooting and the Beltway snipers terrorized Washington, DC, is that our schools, communities and workplaces will never be safe if we allow private citizens to own and carry military-style assault weapons.

While most Maine citizens respect the rights of hunters to safely use firearms for recreational purposes, they do not believe their fellow citizens should have the right to own and use assault weapons or carry concealed handguns in schools, libraries or churches.

Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence welcomes a productive dialogue with the newly formed Maine Gun Owners Association. It hopes the association approaches the issues with more of an open mind than M.D. Harmon.

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