By Cathie Whittenburg
The League of Women Voters believes in transparency and open discussion on political and social issues. To foster this idea we’ll be making occasional posts about our positions, advocacy work and research. Not every member of the League believes exactly the same thing but we (both nationally and locally) put a lot of effort into researching and parsing the issues that we face as citizens in order to formulate positions that represent the broadest base of our membership. LWVME has members across Maine, and is a non-partisan group open to women and men. We hope that you’ll join the discussion (and join the League!).
The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the proliferation of handguns and semi-automatic assault weapons in the United States is a major health and safety threat to its citizens. The League supports strong federal measures to limit the accessibility and regulate the ownership of these weapons by private citizens. The League supports regulating firearms for consumer safety.
The League supports licensing procedures for gun ownership by private citizens to include a waiting period for background checks, personal identity verification, gun safety education and annual license renewal. The license fee should be adequate to bear the cost of education and verification.
The League supports a ban on “Saturday night specials,” enforcement of strict penalties for the improper possession of and crimes committed with handguns and assault weapons, and allocation of resources to better regulate and monitor gun dealers.
Since adopting this strong stand on gun control in 1990, the League of Women Voters has actively, forcefully and consistently worked to reduce gun violence in the United States. Over the years, LWVUS has supported the passage of the Brady background check bill, urged passage of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, voiced concern over the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, and supported background checks on all gun sales.
Local leagues have also joined in the fight, holding community meetings and forums, testifying before state legislators and joining in rallies to promote gun violence prevention. Here is a glimpse of just a few of the recent activities happening across the country:
- League of Women Voters of Washington was one of the first groups to join the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility in 2013. The coalition worked for the successful passage of a ballot initiative that expanded background checks of guns purchases. In November 2014, I-594 passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
- Florida League of Women Voters joined in the successful fight to keep guns off college campuses in Florida. The controversial bill to allow students and faculty to carry loaded, hidden weapons on college campuses was recently reintroduced for the 2016 Legislature. FLWV is already taking action, holding a summit for leaders who oppose the bill.
- In May, the League of Women Voters of Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Area in Illinois, presented a program “Our Increasing Threat From Guns in the 21st Century ” The program featured Bob Spiel, a retired FBI agent, and Mark Walsh, Campaign Director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.
- League of Women Voters of Colorado testified this session against a number of state bills aimed to weaken gun laws. The defeated bills would have repealed the state background check bill, repealed the state high capacity magazine ban, allowed concealed guns in K-12 schools, and allowed people to carry concealed weapons without first having to get a permit.
- League of Women Voters of New Mexico has joined a coalition working to pass a Child Access Prevention law in New Mexico. The bill, which would penalize gun owners for negligent storage of firearms, will be presented to the state legislature in November.
- Fairfax-area League of Women Voters in Virginia held a forum in March, “Firearms: Reducing the Risk in Fairfax County.” The forum looked at the role of firearms in domestic violence and suicide.
- Here in Maine, the LWVME gave testimony against LD 652, An Act to Authorize the Carrying of Concealed Handguns Without a Permit. The testimony pointed to the fact that the law would allow someone who has never had any gun safety training and who has no concept of the laws governing the use of firearms in public to stick a gun in their pocket and go just about any place they want. Doing away with permits would also eliminate the background check that is involved in the permitting process. When you combine that with the fact that Maine already allows for the private sale of guns where there is no background check run, this law would only serve to embolden felons and other prohibited people. Despite the fact that the bill was opposed by 84% of Mainers surveyed as well as the Maine Sheriff’s Association and the Maine Chiefs of Police, Governor LePage signed LD 652 into law in July.
This is just a partial list of the ways the League of Women Voters works to prevent gun violence. Over the years, while legislators have run away from the issue of common sense gun laws, the League has stood strong. “Gun control is a matter of public safety and public health. It is long past time for vital measures to stop the carnage.”