AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage continued his laser focus on the prevention of domestic violence Thursday with the creation of a task force that’s assigned a broad goal and tight timeline.
The task force, whose report to LePage is due by July 31, will review existing laws and practices in Maine to ensure that court-issued protection from abuse orders are effective in safeguarding victims of domestic abuse and violence. The task force will include law enforcement and legal community authorities, representatives from the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, firearms owners and sportsmen. Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, will serve as the chairman.
While LePage said during a press conference Thursday in the State House that it is not his goal to take firearms away from law-abiding citizens, the thrust of his task force is toward gun control.
“The constitutions of Maine and the United States are clear that people have the right to keep and bear arms,” said LePage. “My order will review ways to ensure that existing laws and court orders are enforced effectively to keep weapons away from domestic abusers.”
In the past two years, LePage has been working on the problem in incremental steps. He has supported legislation to amend Maine’s bail code to ensure judges determine bail for domestic violence offenses and expanded financial resources for victims and their families by requiring abusers to make payments to the state’s victim’s compensation fund.
Julia Colpitts, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday that LePage deserves considerable credit for bringing attention to the issue. High-profile murder cases in Maine, most notably the deaths of the Lake family at the hands of Steven Lake in Dexter in 2011, have also helped bring attention to the issue in their own horrible way, said Colpitts.
“The number of calls and contacts we’re receiving from victims and survivors at our centers has gone up dramatically in the past two years,” she said. “People have just put down their ideological swirls and put the domestic violence issue first.”
The coalition worked with more than 13,000 Mainers in 2012 who were affected by domestic violence, including 12,227 adults and 888 children. The coalition’s crisis hotline logged more than 32,000 calls and its centers statewide saw nearly 100,000 in-person contacts.
Colpitts said she believes more regulation on guns could curb those numbers.
“Maine has a long tradition of responsible firearm possession,” she said. “Unfortunately, it also has a long trend of domestic violence homicides. What I think people are coming to understand is that there are people who are high risks to own firearms.”
Legislators are also focused on the issue. Lawmakers have proposed several bills this session that have to do with gun control and safety, according to the office of the Revisor of Statutes — and the majority of bills coming forward this legislative session have not yet been printed.
A bill requiring public secondary schools to offer voluntary courses in gun safety and handling is proposed by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, and Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, has proposed requiring background checks for people who buy guns at gun shows. There are also several bills aimed at concealed handgun permits, including one that would establish a central concealed handgun permit database and another that would designate the Maine State Police as the only department in Maine authorized to issue permits. Currently, many of Maine’s larger police departments issue the permits, though the state police do it for smaller municipalities.
LePage also used Thursday’s event to sign a proclamation recognizing February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.