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Maine House narrowly approves 72-hour waiting period, updated machine gun definition


Maine House narrowly approves 72-hour waiting period, updated machine gun definition

Apr 16, 2024 | 4:55 pm ET
By AnnMarie Hilton
Maine House narrowly approves 72-hour waiting period, updated machine gun definition
Potential buyers try out guns which are displayed on an exhibitor’s table during the Nation’s Gun Show on Nov. 18, 2016 at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Two pieces of gun legislation updating the definition of machine gun and creating a 72-hour waiting period for certain firearm purchases squeaked through the Maine House of Representatives, giving them support in both chambers of the Legislature. The bills were introduced after the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston. 

By an ever-so-thin margin, the House of Representatives passed a proposal 74-72 to update Maine’s definition of “machine gun” and require that all guns forfeited to law enforcement be destroyed. All House Republicans and a few Democrats voted not to pass the measure.

The Senate passed the bill last week by a 19-15 vote.

LD 2086 updates the definition of “machine gun” to align with the federal definition in order to limit their use. The bill also prohibits semi-automatic weapons that are turned into machine guns, defined as a firearm that can release multiple projectiles with a single trigger pull.

As with much of the other gun legislation being considered this session, proponents see it as a common sense measure to enhance public safety. Devices that convert legal weapons into machines, such as a bump stock, “have no place in civilian hands,” said Rep. Vicki Doudera (D-Camden).

Critics on the House floor took issue with the specific language used in the machine gun definition, fearing that it is too broad and could apply to almost any firearm. For example, Rep. Jennifer Poirier (R-Skowhegan) argued the word “projectile” in the definition is problematic and should be “shots” instead. Similarly, Rep. Rachel Henderson (R-Rumford) said “semi-automatic firearm” should be “semi-automatic rifle,” lest it also apply to handguns. 

“LD 2086 attempts to ban massive amounts of firearms in Maine under the loose and vague definition of machine guns,” Poirier said.

Agreeing that accuracy of language is important, Rep. Adam Lee (D-Auburn) pointed out that the language Republicans raised concerns with has existed in Maine law since 1975. The bill at hand extends the definition to address devices and other modifications that turn legal semi-automatic firearms into machine guns. 

As to the other component of LD 2086, Maine law already requires that guns used in homicides and murders must be destroyed. Rep. Amy Kuhn (D-Falmouth) said extending that to all forfeited firearms reduces the likelihood that those firearms will be used in another crime. 

Rep. James Thorne (R-Carmel) used a pit bull as an analogy to express his opposition. Some people see the dog breed as dangerous, but he said others like pit bulls, “so to kill a pit bull or destroy it because it’s a pit bull is very similar to this bill.”

To Thorne, firearms are a “work of art,” so he said “it’s awful to see something like this where the disposition is that they get destroyed when someone else could appreciate them and use them in a kind, gentle manner.”

Adding a 72-hour waiting period 

The House supported a proposed 72-hour waiting period for certain gun purchases with a razor thin margin of 74-73 on Tuesday, dividing Democrats and again getting no support from Republicans. The bill passed the Senate last week with a razor thin margin of 17-16.

Proponents of the bill, LD 2238, say it provides a necessary cooling-off period, especially for people who may be at risk of suicide. Rep. Margaret Craven (D-Lewiston) shared statistics from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention that show there were 178 firearm deaths in Maine in 2021. All but 20 of them were suicides. 

Craven said she introduced a similar waiting period bill years ago and still believes today that gun violence is a public health threat. 

“I need people to hear that this is a suicide prevention bill, but it is also a homicide prevention bill and a mental health crisis support bill,” said Rep. Cheryl Golek (D-Harpswell), who shared a story about her neighbor who died from gun violence. 

However, some opponents described the bill as purporting to address mental health issues rather than truly addressing Maine’s insufficient behavioral health system. Rep. Laurel Libby (R-Auburn) called it a “facade” that ignores “the festering wound that is mental health here in Maine.”  

Additionally, critics fear the proposal will be detrimental to gun shows and guided hunting in the state. 

The vote on both bills was just an initial vote, however, so the bills will need another vote in each chamber before heading to Gov. Janet Mills’ desk. 

The House also voted 75-68 to enact a multipronged gun safety bill, LD 2224, proposed by Mills, and then the Senate placed it on the special appropriations table.