Maine lawmakers have approved a bill that will encourage gun sellers to do background checks. Background checks would still be totally voluntary under Maine law, but this new bill imposes a hefty $500 fine if distributors do not perform a background check and the gun was sold to someone who is not legally allowed to own a gun.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mark Dion (D). He argues that the bill will reduce gun violence by making it harder for guns to fall into the hands of felons and the mentally disturbed.
Under this bill, Maine gun distributors will suddenly have a reason to care about the criminal history of their customers. Some gun distributors will undoubtedly cave to the pressure and require background checks, but the restrictions are loose enough and the penalty is small enough that some gun store owners will likely ignore the law.
There are several layers protecting gun distributors from the consequences. Illegal gun owners have to be caught and the authorities have to trace the sale back to the gun store. Even if that happens, a $500 fee is not exactly crippling.
In fact, some gun distributors might simply shift the financial burden over to the customers. Gun sellers could allow customers to skip a background check no questions asked for a small fee in order to offset the possibility of a $500 penalty. Alternatively, distributors could simply bump the price of guns by a few bucks and displace gun owners’ anger by pointing the finger at pro-gun control politicians.
Overall, this bill probably won’t have a huge impact on Maine crime because it just doesn’t have enough bite to really encourage gun distributors to perform background checks every time. In a business where privacy and self-defense go hand-in-hand, a store that requires shoppers to submit to background checks would likely lose business to a competitor who keeps background checks optional.