Maine’s last gun show before waiting period law goes into effect will raise money for legal challenge

Maine’s last gun show before waiting period law goes into effect will raise money for legal challenge

John Reid of JT Reid’s Gun Shop in Auburn is shown setting up his exhibit for the 45th annual Twin Cities Gun Show at the Lewiston Armory in March 2022. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Maine’s 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases goes into effect next month, and critics say it could end the popular tradition of gun shows that bring together dealers from across the state to sell firearms and accessories.

Opponents of the law say they are continuing to prepare a lawsuit, as they have already done in at least three other states with similar laws: Colorado, New Mexico and Vermont.

And the organizer of a gun show scheduled for this weekend in Augusta — the last show in Maine before the law goes into effect Aug. 9 — plans to donate all proceeds to help pay for the impending lawsuit.

Supporters of the law reject the idea that gun shows are in danger and point to other states that have waiting periods and yet host many gun shows. Florida, for example, has scheduled a handful of gun shows in July alone.

Thirteen states have a waiting period, designed to prevent people in crisis or anger from impulsively buying a gun to harm themselves or others. The laws provide a cooling-off period but do not prevent people from legally purchasing guns, proponents say. Opponents argue that the laws clearly violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by infringing on citizens’ right to keep and bear arms.

Maine’s law threatens gun shows, opponents say, because the events bring together licensed dealers from across the state to make it easier for customers to buy a firearm. Instead of being able to leave the show with a new gun, customers will have to wait three days and then either go to the licensed dealer to pick up the firearm or have it shipped to a dealer closer to their home, potentially increasing costs.

Ryan Appleby of Freedom Promotions, which organizes and promotes gun shows in New England, said the law “will have a huge negative impact on the gun show traditions in the state, as they attract sellers from all over the state.”

“It is not feasible for many customers to travel to the physical location of this gun store several hours away, three days later, after immediately having their background check approved at the event,” Appleby said in a written statement.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said he believes the waiting period would end gun shows in Maine, eliminating important fundraisers and community events for local hunting and shooting clubs, which often use the revenue for educational programs.

“I think this is going to wipe out most gun shows,” Trahan said. “I knew it would have a serious negative impact on rural Maine and the fishing and hunting clubs that depend on this funding. That’s why I told the governor at least a half-dozen times that we would challenge this decision in court.”

LEGAL CHALLENGE

Leaders of Maine Gun Owners and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine declined to provide details on when they expect their lawsuit to be filed, including whether it will come before the new law takes effect.

“If you look at what’s happening in Vermont, Colorado and New Mexico, it’s really important that the first filing (in court) is absolutely 100 percent correct,” said Laura Whitcomb, president of Gun Owners of Maine. “We’re always working diligently with our attorneys to make sure we’re living up to our commitments.”

Appleby, the gun show promoter, said he would donate all proceeds from the July 13-14 gun show to the Augusta Elks Club to help overturn the law.

“While many gun shows, including those run by Freedom Promotions, have taken steps to comply with the new law and attempt to mitigate its negative impact, it will be felt by many small businesses in Maine and will put the livelihoods of many people at risk,” he said. “Time will tell how we will proceed.”

Maine typically hosts between 12 and 20 gun shows per year, each of which can accommodate up to 50 to 60 vendors.

Organizers are working on ways to mitigate the inconvenience for gun show patrons.

Because firearms can’t be shipped directly to a customer’s home, Trahan expects firearms dealers will likely ship purchased guns to a licensed dealer located closer to the customer’s home, where they can be stored and retrieved. Those dealers must keep accurate records of firearms coming in and out of their stores, creating an additional administrative burden — and cost — for dealers and customers, he said.

“It’s a huge amount of paperwork and a huge hassle, and that’s what’s going to add a lot of costs,” Trahan said. “It creates a quagmire – a disaster for anybody who wants to sell guns, and I think they knew that when they passed this law.”

Trahan said the waiting period will also affect sporting goods retailers like L.L.Bean and trading posts in rural Maine, where out-of-state visitors may want to buy a new shotgun to use on a trip but may decide not to because they will have to wait three days.

Fears about the future of gun shows may be overblown, as other states continue to hold gun shows with waiting periods. Florida has at least four gun shows scheduled for July, while Illinois has at least four scheduled by the end of the year. Both states have three-day waiting periods.

Gun rights advocates hold signs among gun reform and safety supporters at the Capitol in January. Opponents of a new law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases say they will challenge the law in court. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

And Washington state, which has a 10-day waiting period, has five shows scheduled for this month, with many more planned before the end of the year.

Supporters of the waiting period law say it will save lives and reject arguments that it would jeopardize gun shows or threaten constitutional rights.

Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, which advocated for stricter gun laws after the Lewiston shooting that left 18 dead in October, dismissed concerns that the waiting period would end gun shows. She said rural Mainers are used to having to travel long distances to meet various needs, including work and medical appointments.

“Many of these states, like Colorado and Florida, have plenty of gun shows despite the wait times,” Palmer said. “The gun show industry in these states is booming despite concerns that the wait times could backfire.”

Palmer suggested that gun dealers are more ubiquitous than supermarkets, saying there are 68 Hannaford Supermarkets and 19 Shaw’s Supermarkets, compared to more than 900 licensed gun dealers, in Maine. She said the benefits of a waiting period, which is intended to prevent compulsive suicides and other violent crimes, outweigh the drawbacks for gun owners.

“Furthermore, I would like to point out that these rural areas in general, and in Maine in particular, have higher rates of firearm suicide, and waiting periods are a critical policy to combat these suicides,” Palmer said.

The waiting period is one of several gun safety laws passed by the Legislature this year in response to the Lewiston mass shooting. Other new laws include expanding the background check mandate to include some private gun purchases, strengthening Maine’s so-called yellow flag law, which allows for the temporary confiscation of firearms when a person poses a danger to themselves or others, and expanding access to emergency mental health services.

Gov. Janet Mills surprised and angered gun owners when she allowed the waiting period law to go into effect without his signature, making Maine the 10th state, along with Washington, to impose a waiting period on most gun sales. Three other states impose waiting periods on some firearms, including Minnesota’s 30-day waiting period for assault weapons and handguns, and New Jersey and Maryland’s seven-day waiting period for handguns.

The new legislation — and gun rights in general — are expected to be a major campaign issue this fall. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, has come under attack from Republicans and gun owners for his calls to ban assault weapons after the Lewiston shooting. And gun advocates plan to highlight gun votes in the upcoming congressional elections.