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How Convicted Felons Still Get Guns in Maine

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Jan 15, 2024

How Convicted Felons Still Get Guns in Maine

How Convicted Felons Still Get Guns in Maine

Convicted felons are not permitted to possess firearms under state or federal gun possession laws but, as recent high-profile shootings have demonstrated, guns are still falling into the hands of the wrong people.

How is this so? How can convicted felons (often with previous weapon charges) still get guns in Maine despite the prohibitions—sometimes with devastating consequences?

Let’s take a closer look at this issue.

Firearm prohibitions in Maine

Under federal law, individuals are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony. The prohibition also applies to some domestic violence misdemeanors and protective orders related to domestic violence or serious mental conditions.

The federal law contains some notable weaknesses that allow some criminal offenders or individuals who show disturbing mental disturbance or have violent tendencies to still obtain firearms.

Maine’s gun possession laws state that nobody can possess a firearm if he/she has been convicted of committing a crime (or found not criminally responsible for committing the crime because of insanity) if any of the following applies to the crime:

  • It is punishable by imprisonment for one year or more under Maine law.
  • It is punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year under federal law.
  • It is punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year in another state (excluding crimes classified as misdemeanors in the state carrying a penalty of imprisonment of two years or less).
  • It is “elementally substantially similar” to a crime under Maine law and is punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year according to the law of any other state.
  • It is part of a proceeding in which the prosecuting authority was required to prove that the crime was committed with the use of a dangerous weapon.
  • There is a conviction for a crime of Domestic Violence Assault, regardless of whether the crime was a misdemeanor or felony.
  • There is a finding of abuse in a PFA (Protection From Abuse), that person is legally obligated to turn in their firearms to local law enforcement and the gun prohibition will apply for the entirety of the term that the order is in effect.

Furthermore, gun possession restrictions also apply to individuals who engaged in conduct as a juvenile that, if committed by an adult, would have been a disqualifying conviction listed above. Whether this ban is temporary or permanent depends on whether bodily injury was threatened and caused by the conduct.

Similar firearm restrictions apply to any individuals in Maine who have been:

  • Committed involuntarily to a hospital due to “a likelihood of serious harm”
  • Found not criminally responsible for a charge because of insanity
  • Found not competent to stand trial for a criminal charge

The possession of firearms restrictions in Maine also extend to fugitives from justice, people addicted to controlled substances, illegal aliens, individuals with dishonorable discharges from the US Armed Forces, and anyone who has renounced their U.S. citizenship.

Illegal firearm possession in Maine

The federal limits on gun possession—first put in place in the 1960s/1970s and later expanded—prevent convicted felons and the other individuals outlined above from owning a firearm.

In Maine, the restrictions have generally worked to prevent serious incidents despite high gun ownership rates. The majority of Maine’s gun deaths are caused by suicides rather than “mass shootings”.

However, recent violent crime cases (including horrific domestic violent crimes and drug-related crimes) have highlighted how some people prohibited from gun ownership are getting their hands on lethal weapons.

A study on deadly force from 2020 found that almost a quarter of armed confrontations with police in the previous decade were sparked by people who had been prohibited from owning firearms.

How do felons obtain guns?

Buying guns from stores or gun shows are just two ways of acquiring firearms. There are several other ways for restricted individuals to get around the gun possession regulations in Maine.

Here are three of the most popular:

1.     Straw purchasing

This is where someone else (with a clean criminal record) buys the guns for a prohibited person, a practice often used in the drug trade. Sometimes, the person who purchases the gun is relieved of a debt if they agree to purchase and hand over the firearm.

This practice has been the subject of tighter proposed restrictions from Congress in recent years.

2.     Theft or borrowing

A convicted felon may also steal a gun from a third party or simply borrow the gun from a friend, family member or other acquaintance.

3.     Purchase privately or on the black market

For many high-value items in the U.S., there is a black market. A convicted felon may purchase a gun here without needing to satisfy any state or federal regulations.

No background check is required for individuals who buy guns privately, either. So, this “door” has been left wide open too.

Closing the door on illegal gun possession in Maine

Gun advocates frequently debate illegal possession issues with those looking for tighter gun controls in Maine. Finding a bipartisan solution that pleases all parties is extremely challenging.

Many proposals have been put forward, attempting to close the door on firearms getting into the hands of convicted felons. Some of these include:

  • Criminalizing the provision of guns to prohibited people (including straw purchases)
  • Mandatory background checks for all sales—including private sales
  • Imposing a waiting period before buyers can receive guns (a “cooling off” period designed to limit suicides and the rash use of firearms)
  • Laws that enforce the locking up of firearms to reduce the number “in circulation”
  • Greater oversight of incarcerated people’s transition out of jail/prison

There is both considerable support and considerable opposition in Maine to each of these proposed measures.

Can gun rights for convicted felons be restored?

Anyone subject to the prohibition against firearm possession because of a criminal conviction may apply to the Maine Commissioner of Public Safety for a permit to carry a firearm after five years from the date of discharge.

The Commissioner will inform local law enforcement, who will have the opportunity to object to the application. Even if no objection is filed by the police, the Commission can refuse the application and deny the restoral of gun ownership rights.

For help with any criminal charge in Maine, call The Maine Criminal Defense Group at 207-571-8146 for an initial case evaluation.

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