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Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.
Firearms are not magic talismans. They don’t have incorporeal moral essence. People may have inappropriate imaginary affection toward them, but that problem is on the person, not the object.
That is why one of the “emergency” bills sent to the Legislature is perplexing. It would require law enforcement to destroy any firearm they cannot legally return to their owner.
Under current law, firearms used in homicides are destroyed. I understand the rationale. While the perpetrator may not be allowed to legally possess it after conviction, there may be delusional individuals who believe that killing a person makes the weapon have greater worth in some warped way.
Anyone with that type of belief may be inclined to spend more to obtain it and seek to use it improperly. So, we destroy it. Likely not because of the object itself, but because of people.
Legislative Democrats are now trying to expand the concept. One of the bills admitted by legislative leaders as an “emergency” for consideration by the Legislature is entitled An Act to Ensure the Safe Disposition of Forfeited Firearms.
No Republicans on the Legislative Council voted for it.
While the text of the bill has not yet been released, its sponsor — Sen. Anne Carney — has been considering it for some time. The idea has received a positive response from the Bangor Daily News editorial board. Twice.
From what we know so far, the bill would require the destruction of all firearms in police custody that cannot be returned to their owner. That includes any weapon seized by the state following a crime. It would also seemingly include any weapon turned in as lost or abandoned.
The rationale for it stems from the fact that gun violence is a problem in the United States. That isn’t disputed.
However, under current law, law enforcement agencies are permitted to sell or auction firearms as part of a disposition of assets. No different than selling cars, boats, swords and other items.
Apparently the solution — destroying all firearms — is intended to ensure that police are not somehow contributing to gun violence by placing firearms back into the market. One story used to bolster the initiative starts in Oxford County.
There was a messy situation in which firearms were involved. However, setting aside any alleged financial hijinx, the weapons were sold to a federal firearms license holder who had undergone significant background checks and is permitted by law to sell firearms commercially. Some of those weapons were then apparently sold by the dealer legally and then later trafficked to criminal gangs in California.
Imagine the proposed new law was in effect. The Oxford County sheriff’s firearms would not have been sold to the dealer. And that is likely the only material difference.
Millions upon millions of firearms are manufactured annually in the United States. The number that would be impacted by this proposed new law are an infinitesimally small percentage of annual production.
Requiring every firearm collected by police be destroyed for merely existing plays into a belief that there is something inherently scary or wrong about the assembly of polymers and metal. There isn’t.
Overcoming the mystique of firearms is necessary to have rational conversations about changes in law. It wasn’t long ago that schools throughout the state had rifle teams. Like lathes in shop class, students learned first-hand that the tool could be very dangerous if used improperly. Safety was paramount, yet there was a way to use them correctly.
I believe requiring police destruction of all weapons plays into that fear. Destruction and disposal is something we do with fentanyl or methamphetamines. It is not something done with chainsaws, knives or vehicles.
Finding ways to reduce emotional reactions to the very idea of a firearm is necessary to enable a rational conversation about changes in the law moving forward. And some changes may be appropriate.
But An Act to Ensure the Safe Disposition of Forfeited Firearms probably isn’t going to be it.